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History of Immigration in the United States

Info: 1481 words (6 pages) Essay
Published: 18th May 2020 in History

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The United States has a long history of being a nation of immigrants. The three biggest waves of immigrants, the old immigrants during the colonial ear, the 1880-1920 new immigrants, and the post-1960’s immigrants demonstrated their unique characteristics in the United States history.

Immigration during the colonial era (pre-1880s), came to the new land searching for economic opportunities, practicing religious freedom, or importing as slaves. It was the first significant immigrants’ wave that America had experienced.  Majority of those early immigrants were from Western and Northern European nations. In 1607, the English flocked to Jamestown in the Virginia Colony for economic opportunity, where they built the first permanent settlement (Corbett 74). Due to the limitation of the voyage technology, more than half of the early white European settlers became indentured servants. In 1620, some of America’s first settlers from Europe, known as the Pilgrims, fled to Plymouth, Massachusetts for the freedom to practice their religious belief. Soon, a much larger group of Puritans followed and established the Massachusetts Bay Colony (Zinn 19). Another part of immigrants during this period was “servants” or slaves. This group of immigrants arrived the land against their will. Congress passed the Act Prohibiting Importation of Slaves of 1807, which prohibited new slave importation into the United States. However, the practice of the African slave trade continued until the end of the American Civil War.

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The newer immigrants (1880-1920) were primarily eastern and southern European countries like Greece, Italy, and Russia. Those immigrants were quite different from those in the colonial era, who were relatively well educated and wealthy. They came to the United States for various reasons, such as unemployment, religious persecution, and escaping military service. To them, America was a land of hope and liberty. However, poor education level and lack of finances readiness limited their living and working options, which further led to a phenomenon of the ethnic enclave – new immigrants clustering in major cities such as Little Italy and Chinatown. Also, because of their skin color, those new immigrants often became the easy target for racial discrimination and hatred. One example is the passage of the notorious Chinese Exclusion Act in 1882, which aimed at prohibiting Chinese workers from coming to America and blaming them for working more hours and asking for less pay.

Since the Jazz Age, America entered an era of restricting new immigration. The Emergency Quota Act of 1921, aka. The Emergency Immigration Act of 1921, limited the number of European immigrants allowed per year. This is the first attempt in US history to establish quotas for immigration. There are some significant characteristics that differentiated those post-1960 immigrants from the previous ones. These newcomers brought their unique culture, religious identity, and even new languages to the community. Although many of those new immigrants embraced nativism and rejected the cultural influence from their original communities, the anxiety and fear still haunted their minds. One example is the controversial murder trial of Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti (Corbett 701) due to racial animosity. The arising of The Ku Klux Klan, who aimed to preserve American homogeneity, embrace anti-Catholicism, and support rigorous immigration policies, was another way that the American people responded to the postwar urbanization of big cities with large immigrant populations featuring rapid growth of opportunities and cultural change. In 1965, Congress passed the Immigration and Nationality Act, which favored immigrants from Asia with family ties in America, and high-skilled immigrants with desirable skills (Corbett 864).

Today, American is still a nation full of immigrants. However, the procedure is much tighter. Political ideology and national security played more essential roles in our immigration policy.

The United States is a relatively young country, but it has already experienced three major wars, including World War I, World War II, and the Vietnam War. Those wars profoundly impact many aspects of American society in their unique ways.

World War I, aka. The First World War hastened the pace of change for American society. In April 1917, America declared the war against the German Empire based on President Wilson’s ideology to make the world a safe place of democracy. First, it marked a watershed for African Americans. Many men of color and women served nobly during wartime. However, the patriotism during World War I did not change the hostile racial regime. Many returned veterans encountered violence and even death from the whites. Mixed feelings of Americanism among Native Americans, Mexican Americans, and Asian Americans became a fundamental issue (A Bio. of America). Another notable impact was the passage of the 19th Amendment by Congress during a special session in the summer of 1919, which prohibited the states and the federal government from denying the right of American women to vote. America’s involvement of World War I led to the establishment of new world order after the war.

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World War II was controversially considered a “good war” to the United States. The noble rational behind the war was President Franklin Roosevelt’s four freedoms speech, i.e., freedom from fear, freedom of expression, freedom of religion, and freedom from want. Although the United States did not directly experience the catastrophic hit of war as Europe and the Pacific did, the war still profoundly transformed American society at home and their daily lives. To many American people, wartime prosperity seemed to be a miracle considering that they just passed the Great Depression. First, it changed employment patterns in the United States. The American people exercised great sacrifice and exhibited tremendous resilience to carry out the total national mobilization in such a large scale. During the war, previously underemployed populations such as the African Americans and women joined the defense industry. The Roosevelt administration encouraged the recognition of unions and promoted better wages for workers. And, the unions pledged not to strike to avoid disruptions in production (Corbett 799-800). Millions of American people showed their patriotism by purchasing a vast amount of government issued war bonds. Second, the Second World War created unprecedented opportunities for women due to the shortage of male laborers, especially in defense-related plants and factories, which were only open for men before wartime. African American women were hired for more highly paid positions than before. Third, the war affected race relations between white and black Americans. Patriotism and the willingness to join together to defend the freedom and defeat our enemies in Asia and Europe temporarily united the American population from different racial groups such as African Americans, Mexican Americans, and even Japanese Americans. However, the honeymoon was too short. Soon the enthusiasm to serve one’s country did not prevent the American government from treating them as the enemy (Corbett, 801). This ambivalence is especially evident for Japanese Americans.

The Vietnam War was an impossible victory for the United States. It destroyed the hope for the young generation and split friends, families, and, and different classes. Government resources were relocated into war. To most Americans, the war was about guns and butter. Sadly enough, guns won the battle. Further, it led to the rise of the civil rights movement inspired by Dr. Martin Luther King’s famous I have a dream speech. Low-income boys and large and influential minorities, like African Americans, sacrificed the most during the war. Even worse, the Lyndon Johnson administration kept lying and enforced the secret spying to the American people. The result was devastating – split deepened in the political arena and no agreement can be achieved even on fundamental public policy.

World War I, World War II, and the Vietnam War transformed American society immensely. On the one hand, it caused numerous casualties and property damages. On the other, it helped prompt economy development, minorities and women rights, and domestic reform.

Word Cited

  • “A Bio. of America.” Annenberg Learner, https://www.learner.org/series/biographyofamerica/.
  • Corbett, P. Scott. U.S. History. Kindle Edition.
  • Zinn, Howard. A People’s History of the United States. HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.


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