Immigrants make their way to U.S. throughout history

NOAH HOLT Contributing Writer

The earliest known immigrants coming to what is now known as the United States are those that crossed the land bridge that connected Asia and North America tens of thousands of years ago. The U.S. became a place of discovery and refuge for many immigrants afterwards. The Spanish and the French established settlements in the 1500s and the English followed by colonizing Jamestown, Virginia.

Immigration to America followed certain patterns. Many came in search of greater economic opportunity or to escape religious persecution. Some even came against their will as slaves.

Hundreds of thousands of African people were enslaved and brought to this country, but they aren’t the only ones who have been brought to America as slaves. Many people came here as indentured servants in hopes of a better economic opportunity, but ended up voluntarily indenturing themselves due to the high price of the journey.

However, according to the Statue of Liberty- Ellis Island foundation, others were kidnapped in “European cities [and] forced into servitude in America.” People from West Africa were brought to this country during the colonial period to be slaves. According to KQED news, nearly 645,000 Africans were brought to America and sold into slavery between the 17th and 19th centuries and by 1860 there were about four million people enslaved

In the mid 19th Century, a major wave of immigration came from Northern and Western Europe. The majority of these immigrants came from Ireland seeking better opportunities. They came looking for a fresh start after famine destroyed their land and impoverished the people. In a way, we can look at the Irish fleeing to America as refugees. They were in need of a better way of life or else they would end up living a life of poverty. Others came in hopes of investing in the land with crops to build themselves a better economic lifestyle.

The California Gold Rush brought a large amount of immigrants from Asia. Again, more people came in search of economic growth, or to put it simply, they came for money. According to the History channel website, due to this influx of immigrants coming to this country, native-born Americans started having “anti-immigrant sentiment” towards newcomers. They saw these immigrants as competition for jobs or they discriminated against them for their religious beliefs, particularly the Irish because they were Catholic.

Federal legislation aimed to restrict immigration with the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, which banned Chinese workers from immigrating to America because Californians believed the Chinese were the reason wages were being lowered since they were willing to work for less.

Ellis Island was the first federal immigration station in the U.S. because up until this point, individual states had decided their own immigration policy. During its time of operation more than 12 million immigrants entered the U.S. through Ellis Island. The industrial revolution brought more then 20 million immigrants to America in search of the “American Dream” and better opportunity, or they were fleeing religious persecution, such as the Jews.

In 1917, legislation required immigrants over the age of 16-years-old to pass a literacy test, and in the early 1920s, immigration quotas were established with the Immigration Act of 1924. This act only allowed entry to two percent of the total people of each nationality. This law later evolved into a limit on how many immigrants could come from a single country, specifically one that is no more then seven percent of the total amount of people immigrating to the U.S. in a single fiscal year, as said by the American Immigration Council.

Due to the great depression and World War II, immigration to the United States declined sufficiently. In 1953, Congress passed special legislation known as the Refugee Relief Act, which allowed refugees from Europe and the Soviet Union to enter into the United States as legal immigrants.

In 1959, illegal immigrants arrived from Cuba seeking refuge. According to the Migration Policy Institute, they were granted admittance through “special humanitarian provisions of U.S. law,” but did not have to go through “traditional immigration pathways” like immigrants from other countries that were required to obtain admission.

In 1965, Congress passed The Immigration and Nationality Act, which did away with quotas based on nationality and allowed Americans to sponsor relatives or family members from their home countries. This act resulted in a shift in immigration patterns and today, most immigrants come from Asia and Latin America as opposed to Europe.