Wednesday, November 18, 2015

A Brief History of Immigration in America

Why didn’t the Pilgrims and Puritans stay in England in 1630-1640 and fight for their religious freedom?  Why did they banish from their new American colony  people who had differing views,  like Roger Williams, who founded Rhode Island (a place for refugees from Massachusetts)?  Why did these same “religious” people (Pilgrims/Puritans) who dreamed of establishing a “redeemer nation,” brutally expel Quakers from Massachusetts, hanging four of them in Boston Common because they refused to leave?  [Involuntary immigrants also came to these shores—African-Americans, English convicts, etc.]

From 1820 to 1930, 4.5 million Irish migrated to America (among them my great grandfather and his family).  They came because of a great famine in their own land.  Five million German immigrants came to America during the 19th century.  In the national census of 2000, more Americans claimed German ancestry than any other group.. (Mr. Trump’s family was among these). In 1850, a significant number of Asian immigrants settled in the U.S. and many others were brought here as cheap labor for the building of the railroads.

This influx of new immigrants frustrated factions of the Anglo-Saxon Protestant population.  New arrivals were seen as unwanted competition for jobs, and many (especially the Irish) were Roman Catholic.  In 1856 an anti-immigrant, anti-Catholic party (called  the “Know-Nothings”) ran a candidate (Millard Fillmore) for president.  The first restrictive immigration legislation was the “Chinese Exclusion Act” of 1882!  Now, isn’t that interesting?

From 1880 to 1920 (a time of rapid industrialization and urbanization) 20 million immigrants came to America.  The majority of these were from Central, Eastern and Southern Europe.  By 1920 four million Italians had migrated to the U.S.  From 1880 to 1920, two million Jews from Eastern Europe fleeing religious persecution came to America.

The Immigration Act of 1924 created a quota system that restricted entry to 2 percent of the total number of people of each nationality in America based on the 1890 national census–a system that favored immigrants from Western Europe–and prohibited immigrants from Asia.

After World War II, Congress passed legislation enabling refugees from Europe and the Soviet Union to enter the United States. Following the communist revolution in Cuba in 1959, hundreds of thousands of refugees from that island nation came to the United States (Mr. Rubio’s family was among these).  Why didn’t these Cuban refugees remain in Cuba to fight for their freedom?

In 1965, Congress passed the Immigration and Nationality Act, which did away with quotas based on nationality and allowed Americans to sponsor relatives from their countries of origin. This created a shift in immigration patterns. Since 1965, the majority of U.S. immigrants come from Asia and Latin America rather than Europe.

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