Advances in Historical Studies
2013. Vol.2, No.3, 167-174
Published Online September 2013 in SciRes (
Copyright © 2013 SciRe s . 167
Immigrants in the United States of America
Stacy Ragsdale
Department of Filology and Languages, UNED Univ ersity, Madrid, Spain
Received July 6th, 2013; revised August 8th, 2013; accepted August 18th, 2013
Copyright © 2013 Stacy Ragsdale. This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons At-
tribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the
original work is properly cited.
Immigrant population has formed over many hundreds of years. Newcomers have arrived in large waves
when jobs were plentiful and resources were unlimited; and immigration slowed during times of eco-
nomic recession. Early immigrants were predominantly White Europeans that farmed the land and tried
hard to find enough food to eat and a warm place to live. The Industrial Revolution brought new types of
jobs which required communication and skills. Today there are 38.5 million immigrants living in the
United States the majority of which are Latino. The job market has become very competitive for these
new immigrants, so competitive in fact, that American residents are pressuring politicians to pass anti-
immigration legislation thus making the immigration integration process very difficult. This article inves-
tigates the immigration movement in the United States and events that have molded the United States in
which we live today.
Keywords: Immigration; Legislation; Education; History; Integration; Obstacles
A Nation of Immigrants Is Born
The Statue of Liberty has long symbolized the beginning of a
new life for millions of immigrants fleeing poverty and hard-
ship hoping to pursue happiness in the United States of Amer-
ica. It is the subject for Emma Lazarus’ poem “The New Co-
“Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame, with conquering
limbs astride from land to land; here at our sea-washed,
sunset gates shall stand a mighty woman with a torch,
whose flame is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand glows world-
wide welcome; her mild eyes command the air-bridged
harbor that twin cities frame. “Keep ancient lands, your
storied pomp!” cries she with silent lips. “Give me your
tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe
free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send
these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me, I lift my lamp
beside the golden door!” (Lazarus, 1968)
Lazarus’ famous poem is engraved on a tablet cemented to
the pedestal on which the Statue of Liberty stands. The Statue
of Liberty was the first monument most immigrants saw upon
their arrival and it seemed to welcome them to the United
Immigration to the United States can be detected as early as
15,000 BC and it still continues today. Throughout history there
have been periods of massive immigration mixed with other
periods in which immigration was strictly regulated and so the
numbers dropped dramaticallyImmigration arrival to the US
has generally come in what historians call “waves”. The first
major wave of immigration begins in the early 1800s and ends
around 1890. After a lull in arrivals, the second important im-
migration wave comes in 1890 and lasts until the early 1920s.
The third massive immigration wave begins in the 1930s near
the end of the Great Depression and continues until present day.
Newcomers have arrived in large waves when jobs were
plentiful and resources were unlimited; and immigration has
slowed during times of economic recession. Early immigrants
were predominantly White Europeans that farmed the land and
tried hard to find enough food to eat and a warm place to live.
The Industrial Revolution brought new types of jobs that re-
quired communication and skills. In 2011, the Pew Hispanic
Research Center estimated that there were 40.4 million immi-
grants living in the United States (Pew Hispanic Research Cen-
ter, 2013) the majority of which were Latinos. The job market
has become very competitive for these new immigrants. So
competitive, in fact, that Americans are pressuring politicians to
pass anti-immigration legislation thus making the immigration
integration process very difficult.
Early Immigrants Put down Roots in
Ethnic-Like Settlements
The first US settlers that arrived to the United States en-
dured many hardships to make their dreams of a home in a new
land a reality. The voyage to the US posed other obstacles to
immigration. Passage was expensive and the journey could take
from six weeks to six months. “Immigrants were packed into
steerage. The usual height of the steerage deck was from 4 to 6
feet and the lower deck was hardly more than a black hole... No
provisions were made for ventilation, the only fresh air came in
through the hatches and these had to be closed during storms”
(Wittke, 1993). Passengers were required to bring and cook
their own food which could not stay fresh and immediately
became mouldy and rotten. Diseases such as typhus, cholera,
and smallpox were common on such a crowded and dirty jour-
ney. In his book, A Peoples History of the United States,
Copyright © 2013 SciRe s .
Howard Zinn publishes a contemporary account of one of these
“On the 18th of May 1847, the “Urania”, from Cork, with
several hundred immigrants on board, a large proportion
of them sick and dying of the ship fever, was put onto
quarantine at Grosse Isle. This was the first of the plague-
smitten ships from Ireland which that year sailed up the St.
Lawrence. But were driven in by an easterly wind, and of
that enormous number of vessels there was not a one free
from the taint of malignant typhus, the offspring of fa-
mine and of the foul ship-hold... a tolerably quick passage
occupied from 6 to 8 weeks... Who can imagine the hor-
rors of even the shortest passage in an emigrant ship
crowded beyond its utmost capacity of stowage with un-
happy beings of all ages, with fever raging in their midst...
the crew sullen or brutal from very desperation, or para-
lysed with the terror of the plague-the miserable passen-
gers unable to help themselves or afford the last relief to
each other, one-fourth, or one-third, or one-half of the en-
tire number indifferent stages of the disease; many dying,
some dead; the fatal poison intensified by the indescrib-
able foulness of the air breathed and rebreathed by the
gasping sufferers-the wails of children, the ravings of the
delirious, the cries and groans of those in moral agony! ...
there was no accommodation of any kind on the island...
Hundreds were literally flung on the beach, left amid the
mud and stones to crawl on the dry land how they could...
May of these... Gasped out their last breath on that fatal
shore, not able to drag themselves from the slime in which
they lay...” (Zinn, 1995)
The hardships of immigration did not end with the journey
over the sea. Once newcomers arrived they faced the challeng-
ing chore of setting up new homes in a foreign land. Jamestown
established by the English in 1607, was located along the James
River and has been reported as being “soggy and mosquito-
plagued”. Settlers at Jamestown had to build new homes, hunt
or grow their own food. Many were not used to hard work and
immediately became ill. Colonial immigrants felt homesick, as
they would probably never see their families or country again.
Many settlers packed up their belongings and tried to return
home by ship. Lord Delaware who was a governor from Lon-
don forced them to return to Jamestown and continue attending
the mandatory church services. The Jamestown settlers endured
many hardships, suc h as starva tion, harsh winters, and hostility
from the Powhatan Indians. In 1610, Jamestown settlers faced a
very harsh winter that was later to be known as “the starving
time”. This period, characterized as a time with no food or wa-
ter, drove settlers to eats rodents, cats, snakes, and even walk-
ing boots. “One settler later claimed that some residents had
turned to cannibalism, and that one neighbour had killed,
‘salted’ and eaten his pregnant wife... By the end of that terri-
ble season, more than half of Jamestown’s settlers had per-
ished” (Beschloss, 2009).
Immigrants that came before the 1800s established their own
ethnic colonies in different parts of the US. The earliest settlers
came mostly from Spain and France and founded the first U.S.
cities: Pensacola (1559) and San Augustine (1565) by the
Spaniards and Fort Caroline (1564) by the French. In the Rio
Grande valley, Spaniards later founded Santa Fe in 1607-1608
and Albuquerque in 1706. Spaniards settled in New Mexico
and Florida, and the French all along both sides of the Missis-
sippi river all the way North to Canada. Later, the English came
and settled along the east coast in Virginia and Pennsylvania.
The Dutch followed and settled in along the Hudson River in
New York, while the Irish-Scots settled in western Pennsyl-
vania and in the southern US Ethnic-like settlements in which
inhabitants maintained their own cultural traditions and lan-
guages began to form throughout the New World (Wittke,
Some nationalities held tightly to their own ways and were
reluctant to embrace a new culture and language; as a result,
many Englishmen began to resent these new neighbors. In 1753,
Benjamin Franklin wrote the following about the German
Americans: “Few of their children in the country try to learn
English. The signs in our streets have inscriptions in both lan-
guages… Unless the stream of their importation could be
turned…they will soon outnumber us so that we will not pre-
serve our language and even our government will become pre-
carious” (Bush & Putnam, 2010). The large German popula-
tion was beginning to make Franklin and other citizens fear that
the US would become overwhelmingly German.
Germans were not the only immigrants that were feared and
disliked, the Irish also faced discrimination when they began to
immigrate in large numbers. In A Power Governments Cannot
Suppress, author Howard Zinn describes “there was virulent
anti-Irish sentiment in the 1840s and 1850s, especially after the
failure of the potato crop in Ireland killed one million people
and drove millions more abroad, most of them to the United
States”. “No Irish Need Apply”, a phrase that often appeared in
employment ads, symbolized the prejudice that existed against
the Irish immigrants. Benjamin Franklin disliked the Irish,
whom he called “a low and squalid class of people” (Zinn,
Even before the US was established as a country, coexis-
tence between ethnic groups was not trouble-free. Germans
were generally criticised for the way they clung to their native
language. Irish and were numerous and some considered them
lazy. The Dutch also felt the sting of criticism. Dr. Drew Ham-
ilton found the Dutch “both old and young... and remarkably
ugly... in their persons slovenly and dirty” (Hoobler, 2003).
Early colonist had never encountered such ethnic diversity in
their homeland and this adjustment was proving to be chal-
The United States won its independence from the British in
1776 and elected George Washington as its first president. Wa-
shington welcomed immigration however he encouraged them
not to come as “clannish groups but as individuals, prepared for
intermixture with our people, then they would be assimilated to
our customs, measures and laws: in a word, soon become one
people”. John Quincy Adams held similar views and called for
new immigrants to “cast off the European skin, never to resume
it” (Schlesinger, 1998). He encouraged looking forward to pos-
terity instead of backwards toward ancestry. With the birth of a
new country, government needed a way to govern and com-
municate with their new colonies and states; so they became
motivated to educate colonists.
English Becomes the US Common Language
Although all of the US government business is conducted in
English and many states have named English as their official
language; the United States as a country has no declared official
language. The United States were born on land discovered by
Copyright © 2013 SciRe s . 169
the Spanish, inhabited by Native Americans, and later settled
by English, Dutch, Germans; but the English language finally
prevailed. Perhaps the reason lies in the fact that the early Eng-
lish settlers came here to stay and build a home, while other
nationalities came for other purposes.
When Christopher Columbus discovered the New World, he
and his men came looking for riches that would impress the
King and Queen of Spain and would secure funding for future
expeditions. The Columbus expedition came and returned but
did not settle. Later, the French and Dutch came to the New
World to make fortunes in trade before returning to their home
country. Why was it that none of these languages installed itself
in the New World? The first English colony in which the Pil-
grims settled in 1619 was Jamestown. Settlers had not been
able to worship freely in England so they came to the New
World to practice religious freedom and create a community in
which they could advance Christianity. The Puritan’s bible was
written in English; therefore in order to learn about religion,
people needed to know English to understand about God.
Learning English became a top priority for future generations
so children could read the bible and worship. The first year in
the New World, many Pilgrims died from lack of food, cold,
and illness. Those who survived did so thanks to the Native
Americans that helped the Pilgrims; one in particular named
Squanto saved the Pilgrims and communicated with them in
English. Squanto had been kidnapped years earlier by English
sailors and taken to England. Due to the success of English
colonies, the arrival of English immigrants increased. “By the
end of the seventeenth century, English was being heard and
taught along more than a thousand miles of the eastern coast”
(Bragg, 2003).
Shortly after, in 1620, 102 passengers set sail on the May-
flower toward the new world. Forty one of them were Pilgrims
that had left England in order to pursue a religious freedom.
The rest of the passengers were indentured servants, craftsmen,
women, and children that had obtained the right to settle on
land claimed by the Virginia Company near the Hudson River.
However, their voyage left them near Cape Cod, far north of
their destination. Although they tried to sail south, sand bars
made navigation difficult so the pilgrims decided to settle in
Plymouth. Some passengers were unhappy with the new set-
tlement and threatened to live as they pleased without reguard
to their neighbors. As a result, colony leaders drafted the May-
flower Compact, a document pledging allegiance to England
yet simultaneously establishing a form of self government that
would ensure the general good of the colony. Thus another
group of Englishmen settled on the east coast (Constitutional
Rights Foundation, 2002).
By 1776, the use of English was spreading but other nation-
alities held on tightly to their native language. German was the
principle language used around eastern Pennsylvania, as a mat-
ter of fact, “the first US Census reported 8.7 percent of Ameri-
can spoke it as their first language” (Gonzalez, 2000). There
were over 30 newspapers published in German and early Ger-
man bilingual education was established.
Some accounts tell a story that the colonist were prepared to
adopt German as a common language and abandon English as a
protest toward English colonial policy. On his Language Policy
Web Site Emporium Archives (1997-2008), James Crawford,
writer, lecturer, and formerly the Washington editor of Educa-
tion Week, blogs about the legend of Frederick Muhlenburg.
The Muhlenberg legend relates a story that the German lan-
guage failed to become the official language of the United
States because of Muhlenberg’s one vote. Crawford believes
that this legend derives from a similar vote related to publishing
some of the federal laws i n German while Muhlenberg was the
Speaker of the US House of Representatives. “In 1795, the
House defeated this proposal on a 42-41 vote, in which
Muhlenberg may have stepped down from the Speaker’s chair
to break a tie. Existing records, however, make it impossible to
ascertain what role, if any, the Speaker played. It is known that
he was never fluent in German.” (Crawford, 2013)
According to English journalist Bill Bryson, any allegation
that there was a vote to install German as the official language
is absolutely false. “The only known occasion on which Ger-
man was ever an issue was in 1795 when the House of Repre-
sentatives briefly considered a proposal to publish federal laws
in German as well as in English as a convenience to recent
immigrants, and that proposal was defeated. Indeed, as early as
1778, the Continental Congress decreed that messages to for-
eign emissaries be issued “in the language of the United States”
(Bryson, 1994). In 1900, Germans continued to be one of the
largest minorities living in the US until the post World War I
era when the US began an Americanization policy.
In their investigation “Good Old Immigrants of Yesteryear
Who Didn’t Learn English: Germans in Wisconsin,” Miranda E.
Wilkerson and Joseph Salmons suggest that early immigrants
did NOT immediately learn English upon their arrival as many
believe. “The full range of evidence shows that into the twentieth
century, many immigrants, their children, and sometimes their
grandchildren remained functionally monolingual many dec-
ades after immigration into their communities had ceased.
Qualitative data from the 1910 US Census, augmented by qua-
litative evidence from newspapers, court records, literary texts,
and other sources, suggest that Germans of various socioeco-
nomic backgrounds often lacked English language skills. Ger-
man continued to be the primary language in numerous Wis-
consin communities, and some second- and third-generation
descendants of immigrants were still monolingual as adults”
(Salmons & Wilkerson, 2008).
Furthermore Germans were not barred from certain types of
jobs due to their monolingual status; “In Hustisford, German-
town, and Kiel, monolinguals worked in a variety of settings,
not only as farmers and laborers, but as stonemasons, black-
smiths, cheese makers, tailors, and butchers, not to mention
preachers, teachers, and foremen. In an urban setting such as
Sheboygan, monolinguals were similarly widely distributed
across occupations.” (Salmons & Wilkerson, 2008)
Another way in which English was spread was by conquer-
ing or purchasing territories. Louisiana was a colony of France
that became United States property through the Louisiana Pur-
chase in 1803. This land acquisition more than doubled the size
of the country. When Louisiana became a state in 1812, most of
the residents spoke French so their public documents were
written in French and their courts and schools operated in both
French and English. The governor at that time, Jacques Villere
did not speak a word of English. By 1840, Englishmen had
settled in all parts of Louisiana and French had become a sec-
ond language. English began to prevail as more English speak-
ers settled there (Gonzalez, 2000). “It would be the French who
would give the opening English needed to flood over North
America (Bragg, 2003).” President Jefferson immediately had
Captain Meriwether Lewis and William Clark to find a river
that would facilitate trade to the west coast. The Gold Rush of
Copyright © 2013 SciRe s .
1849 would draw English-speaking colonists west.
When miners discovered gold in 1848 in California, millions
crossed the United States in attempt to settle in California and
find their fortune. This significant event redistributed the US
population, and became known as the Gold Rush. “As news
spread of the discovery, thousands of prospective gold miners
traveled by sea or over land to San Francisco and the surround-
ing area; by the end of 1849, the non-native population of the
California territory was some 100,000 (compared with the pre-
1848 figure of less than 1,000). A total of $2 billion worth of
precious metal was extracted from the area during the Gold
Rush, which peaked in 1852” (, 2013). The English
language travelled west with many gold seekers
The transition from Spanish to English for Mexicans living
on territories annexed by the US in the Treaty of Guadalupe
Hidalgo took a much longer time. Most residents eventually
learned English but kept Spanish and became bilingual. Simi-
larly in 1898, the US occupied Puerto Rico and tried to im-
pose English as one of the official languages. When Anglo
administrators tried to impose English as the language of in-
struction, many students dropped out of school and the entire
education system almost collapsed.
Negro slaves coming in were also forced to adopt English as
their new language. They were processed through a receiving
station called Sullivan’s Island in Charleston, South Carolina.
Half of the slaves that were taken from the West Indies were
unloaded here. These immigrants came from West Africa where
there were hundreds of local languages being spoken at that
time. On the voyage to the New World, speakers of the same
language were broken up in order to avoid mutinies and to keep
slaves powerless. Many of these slaves began to use a form of
“pidgin” English, a simplified form of speech with a limited
vocabulary used for communication between people with dif-
ferent languages. This form of English would develop further as
it came ashore; so many slaves arrived speaking a form of Eng-
lish. Slaves were not allowed to learn the written form of Eng-
lish so that their masters would have more control over them
(Bragg, 2003).
Thus the English language came and spread throughout the
United States as a common language. “In 1789, 90 percent of
America’s four million white inhabitants were of English de-
scent” (Bryson, 1994). Before the American Revolution, colo-
nist considered themselves Englishmen and did not want to
break away from the motherland. It took long consideration and
hot debate to convince all of the colonies to declare independ-
As we have seen, US immigrants from different parts of the
world adopted the English as their language, but immigrants
also left their mark on the English language. By the end of the
sixteenth century, there were words from fifty different lan-
guages being used as “English” (Bragg, 1994). English was
able to grow by incorporating such words as “rendezvous”
(French), “pyjamas” (Hindustani), “alcohol” (Arabic), “cafete-
ria” (Spanish), “taekwondo” (Korean), and “breeze” (Portu-
guese). Newcomers brought their foods and spices such as
goulash (Hungarian), ravioli (Italian), chilli (Mexican), and
bratwurst (German); thus transforming British English into US
English, the language of a melting pot.
Industrial Revolution Brings Changes
The colonial period ended and immigration continued its
course through the Industrial Revolution. The invention of Ful-
ton’s steam engine made transatlantic travel speedier, however
new obstacles awaited immigrants upon their arrival to the US.
Newcomers now needed to pass inspections and exams in order
to remain in the US. Early immigrants were received at the
dock in New York. Their muscles and teeth were inspected to
see if the immigrant could withstand hard work, later the in-
spection took place at Ellis Island. Once newcome rs had pa ssed
inspection and were free to stay, they would likely encounter a
“runner”. New York was infested with runners, who were hired
to take advantage of immigrants by leading them into hotels,
boarding houses, or train stations. These establishments would
in turn overcharge the immigrant for everything and take ad-
vantage of them.
In 1903, a new immigration record was set when 857,046
foreigners arrived in the United States. Ellis Island, an immi-
gration station in New York Bay was built and many of these
new immigrants passed through its doors. In the years before
World War I, a new group of immigrants began to arrive from
Asia. These newcomers settled primarily on the west coast.
These immigrants were not processed at Ellis Island; they went
through Angel Island immigration station in San Francisco.
Based on the 1890 US Census, it is stated that 20% of the
country’s Chinese immigrants had settled in San Francisco, the
main port of entry on the west coast at that time. San Francisco
was the first US city to have a Chinatown, founded in 1850s
(Yans-McLaughlin & Lightman, 1997). The graph (Figure 1)
(Scholastic, 2010) details US immigration growth by decade.
Chinese settlers were not the only oriental immigrants arriv-
ing in the 1850s; the Japanese outnumbered the Chinese. More
than 100,000 Japanese immigrated to the United States between
1900 and 1925. Unlike the Chinese, Japanese immigrants did
not tend to settle in San Francisco or other West Coast cities
during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The majority of
Japanese migrated to Hawaii, a US territory that had not yet
become a state. As more immigrants arrived, the Japanese
eventually replaced native Hawaiians as the most numerous
group on the island chain.
Benjamin Franklin’s concerns reappeared in the late 1800s
because many native-born Americans, once again, feared that
the great influx of immigrants might cause a loss of control
over their country. In the 1860s, the Chinese were welcomed as
cheap labour that would build our railroads. Later there was a
job shortage and then Chinese were seen as a threat. In the early
1900s, both the Japanese and the Chinese encountered preju-
dice and even violent attacks. Angry native-born Americans
began to demand legislation that restricted Chinese and Japa-
nese immigration. The Naturalization Act of 1870 and The
Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 were passed in response to pub-
lic opinion and aimed to curb immigration from China. A “gen-
tlemen’s agreement” was made in 1908 to end immigration
from Japan. These laws radically cut Chinese immigration for
the next 10 years and prohibited Chinese residents from be-
coming citizens (Hernández, 2007).
Congress passed The Naturalization Act of 1906. This Act
required all immigrants to speak English in order to become
nationalized citizens and languages other than English were to
be discouraged. Up until this time, immigrants didn’t really
need to learn English beyond the conversational level because
prior to the 1800s, they lived same ethnic communities and
spoke their native tongue. Most immigrants were farmers or
craftsmen and had little need for a new language. During the
Copyright © 2013 SciRe s . 171
Figure 1.
Total Immigrants by Decade Source:
industrial revolution, most immigrants worked in factories and
were able to do their jobs with little or no English.
The Naturalization Act of 1906 was a clear message from the
US government: learn the predominate language and adopt the
white majority culture or go back home. Before passage of this
law, newcomers had continued to settle in ethnic-like neigh-
borhoods making it simple for them to interact in their own
language and keep their culture alive. More importantly, the
lack of English knowledge had never been a barrier to entering
the job market. Most immigrants easily found jobs in factories
even though they knew that these jobs were often underpaid
and offered hazardous conditions. The Naturalization Act of
1906 was one of the factors that encouraged English language
learning but it was not the only cause.
The Industrial Revolution slowly caused US industries to
require workers that could learn new skills and communicate in
English. In the 1800s many Chinese immigrants had jobs that
required little English. They worked as miners, railroad con-
struction workers, cooks, and laundrymen. By the 1900s Eng-
lish became an obstacle as they became entrepreneurs. Lack of
English skills made merchants vulnerable to “unscrupulous
suppliers, complaining customers and thieves” (Chang, 2003).
Shop workers had to find non-verbal ways of communicating
such as saving the last piece of merchandise and showing it to
the supplier as a way of re-ordering more supplies. In public
school, classes had been given in English since the 1800s. Chi-
nese children also learned English by reading English-language
newspapers, listening to the radio, watching movies and reading
comic books.
In the early twentieth century Henry Ford revealed his con-
cern about non native workers when he stated, “These men of
many nations must be taught the American ways, the English
language, and the right way to live” (Meyer, 1980). Ford had
discovered that most of his employees did not speak English
and communication problems forced Ford to spend a large
amount of money on company interpreters. These issues re-
sulted in the opening of The Ford School in 1914.
Ford Motor Company started an “Americanization” program
to help new immigrants adapt to the mass production system. In
order for employees to collect their full salary of 5 dollars a day,
they had to live in a single family home and not in an apartment.
As a result, many immigrants moved outside their ethnic
neighbourhoods. Ford offered English classes to employees that
participated fully in this program. By the mid-1920s, most
states had instituted English-only instructional policies in both
private and public schools, which was essentially a form of
submersion education for immigrant children.
Ford was not the only company to look for its own solutions
for teaching immigrant workers English. In 1918, over one
thousand immigrant US steel workers in Gary, Indiana were
enrolled in “opportunity classes”. The curriculum designed by
Peter Roberts of the Young Men’s Christian Association,
YMCA, dealt with citizenship education. Robert’s classes
taught immigrants everyday words and phrases related to home
and work, buying, selling, and travelling. Reading and Geog-
raphy also formed part of the curriculum followed by “patriotic
texts”. “The final phase of the YMCS program prepared the
worker for the naturalization exam.” (Betten, 1976)
In the 1920s, anti-immigration sentiment became even more
widespread. Nativists, those who favoured the interests of cer-
tain established inhabitants of an area or nation as compared to
claims of newcomers or immigrants, lobbied vigorously for
even more restrictions. Congressman Albert Johnson of Wash-
ington worried that because the county was letting in newcom-
ers from countries that “did not embrace or even know democ-
racy, our capacity to maintain our cherished institutions stood
diluted by a stream of alien blood” (Hernandez, 2007). So John-
son proposed The Emergency Quota Act of 1921 and The Im-
migration Act of 1924, (Johnson-Reed Act) that set up a new
quota system and restricted Italian, Jewish, Polish, and Asian
immigration. As a result, only half a million immigrants were
admitted into the United States during the 1930s, compared
with the 4 million who had come during the 1920s.
Embracing Ethnic Diversity?
Because few jobs were available during the Great Depression,
non-English speakers had no alternative but to take positions
with unsafe working conditions, long hours, and 7-day-work
weeks. Sometimes immigrants received low pay or none at all,
but they were unable to defend themselves because they didn’t
speak English. Resentment toward immigrants in the workplace
was common, especially when work was scarce and job compe-
tition was fierce. The Second World War would revive the US
economy and bring more positions to the ailing US job mar-
Copyright © 2013 SciRe s .
A surge in US nationalism overtook the country due to the
war victory and people began to believe that nationalism was
the glue that would bind the country together. Franklin D.
Roosevelt said in 1943, “The principle on which this country
was founded and by which it has always been governed is that
Americanism is a matter of the mind and heart: Americanism is
not and never was, a matter of race and ancestry. A good
American is one who is loyal to our creed of liberty and de-
mocracy.” (Schlesinger, 1998)
Another consequence of World War II was that “the United
States began to recognize once again the importance of foreign
languages, foreign language education, and cooperation with
(as opposed to fear of) speakers of other languages which natu-
rally led to a greater interest in ESL education. The US army
was in need of bilingual soldiers for posts in Germany; how-
ever, few Americans spoke German. This was one of the factors
that caused many linguists and educators in the 1950s to put a
lot of effort into English as a Second Language, ESL, research
and producing a variety of ESL teaching methods that are still
used, at least in part, today” (Your Dictionary The History of
ESL). The 1940s marked the beginning of an expansion for
ESL programs.
If it seemed that the US was beginning to embrace the idea of
ethnic diversity in the US during these post WWII years, Presi-
dent Johnson removed all doubts in 1965. On Sunday October 3,
1965, President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Immigration and
Nationality Act at the foot of the Statue of Liberty in New York
Harbour. “Our beautiful America was built by a nation of
strangers… from a hundred different places or more that have
poured forth into an empty land, joining and blending in one
mighty and irresistible tide” (Meacham, 2009). The bill that
Lyndon signed on that day would transform the United States
into a society of diverse cultures, religions, and ethnic groups.
Immigration Nationality Act, INA, eliminated the quota by
nationality system and gave preference to skilled workers and
family of US residents.
The 1965 law marked the beginning of a massive wave of
immigration to the US. Even though the Nationality Act of
1965 did not cause an immediate increase in population, most
historians believe that the Immigration and Nationality Act of
1965 opened the doors to the third wave of immigration that is
still in progress today. This wave began slowly and Latin
American and Asian arrivals were twice as high as that of the
Europeans marking a shift from a predominately European
immigrant population to a Latino one.
Throughout the 80s, immigration continued to rise and more
than 8 million new immigrants came that figure increased be-
tween 1991 and 2000 to 9.1 million. European immigration
decreased to 705,000 in the eighties and then as a result of the
fall of communism in the 1990s, 1.3 million Europeans came.
Uncounted illegal immigrants add significantly to that total
according to McLaughlin and Lightman. Later in an attempt to
curb illegal immigration, the Immigration Reform and Control
Act was passed in 1986. This act established sanctions against
employers who hired illegal immigrants and offered amnesty
for illegal immigrants requesting legal status. An agricultural
guest program was set up for alien laborers.
By the 1990s, immigrants were coming mostly from Asia,
South and Central America, according to Mei Ling Rein author
of Immigration and Illegal aliens: Burden or Blessing. These
immigrants were more likely to be women, around the age of
29, with a technical occupation such as a labourer, machine
operator or service occupation. Mexico was the county with the
most immigrants (131,575) in 1998. Mexico was followed by
China (36,884), India (36,482), Philippines (34,466) and the
Dominican Republic (20,387). These immigrants wanted to live
in a community where they felt comfortable, one that had lots
of jobs, and hopefully had friends and family already living in
that same community. Unfortunately 40% of new immigrants
that came in 1998 only wanted to live in two states: California
(25.8%) and New York (14.6%). Florida, Texas, New Jersey
and Illinois were other popular destinations. The chart below
(Figure 2) (US Census Bureau, 2004) illustrates data found in
the U.S. Census Bureau Current Population survey of 2004.
Immigrants during these years were more likely to be poor.
According to Rein, “in 1999 more than one third (36.3%) of
foreign born full time, year round workers earned less than
$20,000 compared to one fifth (21.3) of their native counter
parts.” In 2003, the majority of Latino immigrants earned be-
tween $25,000 and $39,999 each year while the majority of
whites earned over $80,000. The wage gap between immigrants
and whites was extremely wide (Rein, 2002).
In their book, The Color of Wealth: The Story Behind the US
Racial Wealth Divide, Meizhu Lui and Barbara use home own-
ership data from 2003 to point out that all immigrant groups
were not faring equally as well. Among white residents 75.4%
owned a home while only 48.1% of African Americans and
46.7% of Latinos did so. Fifty six percent of Asian/Pacific Is-
landers owned homes and fifty four percent of Native Ameri-
cans did as well. There was also a large variation in the values
of the homes owned. According to data compiled by Barbara J.
Robles, analysis or federal Bank survey of consumer finances,
the mean White primary residence value was $141,769 in 2003,
the Negro primary residence value was $45,476, and the Latino
primary residence value was the lowest at $53,548 (Meizhu,
Robles, Leondar-Wright, Brewer, & Adamson, 2006).
US Immigrants Today
Today’s immigrants are different from early immigrants for
several seasons. The early immigrant population was predomi-
nantly European; modern day immigrants come mostly from
Latin America and Asia. Early immigrants were rural farmers;
today the immigrants that arrive are urban workers. Early im-
migrants came to the United States to stay and had little possi-
bility of returning home and there was little contact with their
country of origin. Today’s immigration allows for more back
and forth movement between the country of origin and the US
White and Hispanic Income
Yearly Earnings in 2003Percentage of Whites Percentage of Latinos
0 - $14,999 6.5% 16.48%
$15,000 - 24,999 9.35% 18.26%
$25,000 - 39,999 15.50% 22.60%
$40,000 - 59,999 18.71% 17.90%
$60,000 - 79,999 15.81% 11.07%
$80,000 34.13% 13.67%
Figure 2.
White and Hispanic income in 2003; Source: US Census Bureau Cur-
rent Population survey 2004, Table FINC-03, p. 13 .
Copyright © 2013 SciRe s . 173
Also advanced technology allows immigrants to stay in touch
with their homeland.
Perhaps the most important transformation has occurred
within the US itself; the US has shifted from an agricultural
based economy then to an industrial economy and finally to an
information-based economy, therefore, today’ s immigra nt is e x -
periencing a lack of low-skilled jobs. The following table (Fig-
ure 3), based on Passel and Cohn’s Pew Hispanic Research
Center report (Passel & Cohn, 2012), illustrates the make-up of
the US immigrant population in 2009 and 2010.
Many of the factory and farm jobs that were available to
early immigrants, have moved to other countries and the US job
market is now a difficult place for unskilled workers. The US
economy has shifted from agriculture, to industry, then services,
and finally information. As Steve Denning at Forbes magazine
explains, “In 1900, it took a large portion of the US population
to produce enough food for the country as a whole. With better
farming practices, fewer people were needed. At the beginning
of the 1930s, more than a fifth of all Americans still worked on
farms. A much smaller percentage was actually needed. Today,
2 percent of Americans produce more food than we can con-
sume. The Great Depression, was about finding jobs for all
those who were no longer needed on farms.” (Denning,
As a result of these economic changes, the number of un-
skilled jobs available has decreased. A college degree, excellent
English skills and job training are now necessary to succeed.
According to authors Katharine Davies Samway and Denise
“whereas our immigrant grandparents generally needed no
more than oral, interpersonal communication skills in
English, at most, in order to succeed in the United States,
today’s immigrants must reach high levels of literacy in
order to participate beyond the poverty level. Conse-
quently, simply placing newcomers in an English-speak-
ing environment will not adequately prepare them to par-
ticipate fully in the life of the nation” (Samway & Mc-
Keon, 1999).
Immigrants now need to be well educated to succeed in the
United States, and educational institutions are the key to help-
2009 2010
Total (thousands) 39,929 39,313
Mexico 11,747 11,707
Central America 2989 3015
Carribean 3749 3529
South America 2740 2675
South/East Asia 9985 9743
Middle East 1384 1353
Europe and Canada 5798 5847
Africa and Oceania 1501 1414
Other 37 30
Figure 3.
Revised immigrant population living in the US 2009-2010; Source:
Pew Hispanic Research Center.
ing immigrants obtain better jobs. Unfortunately immigrant
children are not performing as well in US public schools school
as native-born White children are. The Department of Edu-
cation measures national reading and math proficiency through
the NAEP, National Assessment of Educational Process. In
2011, of the 8th graders in the “all” category, 24% of them
were reading below proficient level while 36% of Latinos
scored below proficient on the NAEP reading evaluation. Also
27% of all children scored below level in Math, but the figure
was 39% for Latinos. This gap between White and Hispanic
academic performances is known as the Hispanic Achievement
Gap. Addressing this gap would ensure a prosperous future for
US Hispanics.
In 2010, the foreign-born population was 38.5 million resi-
dents, 12.5% of the total US population. Over half of them
(53.1%) came from Latin America, over a quarter of them
(27.7%) came from Asia, 12.7% came from Europe, 3.9% came
from Africa, and 2.7% came from “other” regions (Grieco &
Treveyan, 2010). Of the 20.5 million immigrants from Latin
America, 56% of them came from Mexico and China sent the
most immigrants from Asia. Of those immigrants 79% entered
the US before the year 2000. Eighty per cent of the population
speak only English at home.
Today’s immigration population is much more geographi-
cally diverse. Only fifty six percent of the total foreign-born
population lives in the traditional immigration states: California
(9.9 million), New York (4.2 million), Texas (4.0 million), and
Florida (3.5 million). The other 46% settled in non-traditional
Midwestern or southern states. Many states that have not typi-
cally had large Latino populations are experiencing growth in
their Hispanic population. In Georgia, the Latino population has
grown by 96.1% from 2000 to 2010; Alabama increased by
144.8%, Mississippi by 105.9%, Tennessee by 134.2%. Latino
population is still increasing in traditionally Latino states but at
a slower rate; California increased by 27.8%, Arizona by 46.3,
Texas by 41.8%, and Florida by 57.4%; but there are now large
increases in other states (US Census, 2010).
The modern immigrant work force is made up of diverse
backgrounds. The poorest and least skilled workers are immi-
grating to the United States along with the most educated and
wealthy workers. The immigrant work force has increased from
14.6 million in 1994 to 29.7 million in 2010; however an im-
portant shift has taken place. For the first time in the year 2007,
the number of skilled workers outnumbered the lower-skilled
workers. According to a report published by the Brookings Ins-
titution and based on census data, “30% of the county’s work-
ing-age immigrants, regardless of legal status, have at least a
bachelor’s degree, while 28% lack a high school diploma”
(Bahrampour, 2011). The report also found that more highly
skilled immigrants came from India, China, and the Philippines;
while Mexico and Central America tended to send lower skilled
labour. These skilled immigrants tended to work in coastal
cities or metropolitan areas. Lower skilled workers were more
common in the areas near the US Mexican border. Even though
an immigrant has a higher education, their foreign credentials
are often not recognized in the US therefore, half of the US
immigrants are working at a job for which they are over quail-
Immigration expert Joseph Chamie claims that without im-
migration, the US population growth would decrease by as
much as 80%. The United States relies on immigration to keep
growing as a nation. Furthermore the US must look to immi-
gration in order to complete its aging work force. Finally, tax
Copyright © 2013 SciRe s .
dollars from foreign workers are needed to finance our gov-
ernment. The US cannot ignore the integration of these new-
comers (Chamie, 2005).
According to Professor Jimenez at Stanford University, “the
recent inflow of immigrants is integrating reasonably well”
(Jimenez, 2011). However, the current economic downturn, a
shift in the types of jobs that are now available, and unauthor-
ized status of many immigrants are some of the causes that are
impeding today’s immigrants from integrating more easily.
Furthermore, competition for the few available jobs on the
market is causing anti-immigrant sentiments, which in turn,
generates unfavorable immigration legislation.
Anti-immigrant legislation leads to an increase in illegal im-
migration. The most alarming characteristic of today’s immi-
grants is that of the 38.5 million immigrants living in the
United States, one third of them are illegal. “Seven out of ten
unauthorized immigrants are in the labour force” (
2011). Legal status is one of the most influential factors of in-
tegration. Immigrants that do not have permission to live and
work in the United States are likely to earn lower salaries, live
below the poverty line, and be excluded from health care. Fed-
eral law allows the children of illegal immigrants to attend pub-
lic schools but only ten states offer in-state tuition to these stu-
dents. Many immigrants, particularly Hispanics, come to the
US because they need jobs in order to survive. Mexicans, Cen-
tral Americans, and others will continue to come because work
is a necessity. No amount of restrictive legislation will stop
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