At the height of the ice age period between 34,000 and 30,000 B.C, a land bridge, known as Beringia, emerged between Asia and North America. Beringia is 15,00 kilometers wide with abundant of moist and treeless Tundra, attracting large animals that early humans hunted for their survival. The first people to reach North America without knowing they had entered in a New Continent emerged in this game for survival.
First Europeans to arrive in North America were Norse, who traveled towards West from Greenland, where Erik the red founded a settlement around the year 985. In 1001, his son Leif explored the North East Coast what is now Canada.
In 1497, just five years after Christopher Columbus landed in the Caribbean, a Venetian sailor named John Cabot arrived in Newfoundland on a mission for the British King which opened the way for the European Fisherman particularly Portuguese to the rich fishing grounds off George’s banks. Columbus himself did not saw the mainland United States, but the possession that he helped to establish saw first explorations of the Continental United States. The first of these explorations took place in 1513 when a group of men under Juan Ponce de Leon landed on the Florida coast near the present city of St. Augustine. With the conquest of Mexico in 1522, the Spanish further solidified their position in the Western Hemisphere. These ensuing discoveries led to the naming of America-after the Italian Amerigo Vespuccio, wrote a widely popular account of his voyages to a “New World”.
The early 1600s saw the great tide of immigration from Europe to North America, spanning more than three centuries, which grew from a trickle of a few hundred English colonists to a flood of millions of new comers. Impelled by powerful and diverse motivations, they built a new civilization on the northern part of the continent. The first English Emigrants crossed the Atlantic long after thriving Spanish colonies had been established in Mexico, the West Indies and South America. Like all early travelers to the New World, they came to escape from political aggression and in small overcrowded ships.
The 1630s saw the arbitrary rules made by England’s Charles 1 giving impetus to the migration to the New World. The subsequent revolt and triumph of Charles opponents under Oliver Cromwell in the 1640s led many Cavaliers to cast their lots in Virginia. Thus between 1607 and 1624 approximately 14,000 people migrated to colony, yet in 1624 only 1132 were living. In the late 17th and 18th centuries, the oppressive policies of various petty princes regarding religion and the devastations caused by a long series of wars also helped swell the movement to America in the late 17th and 18th centuries.
The first great wave of immigrants was of the Puritans, which started in 1620. This led to establishment of 13 colonies between 1629-41, followed by immigrants peaking in 1720’s, another in the early 1750’s, and yet another from the late 1760’s until American Revolution erupted in 1775. There was break in wars between these periods basically due to wars that started in Europe. After the revolution, there was a great lull in immigration for nearly 70 years until the Irish started arriving in the 1840’s escaping potato famine areas.
After the arrival of Irish, it was the time of Germans to flee their nation after the failed revolution of 1848, all due to poverty and authoritarianism of Germany in that period.
For next 40 years, immigration surged and plunged. As the centuries passed immigrants started moving from Northern Europe to Southern and Eastern Europe, whereby transportation become cheaper, railroads penetrated in each and every corner of Europe, steamships grew in size, creating the routes for poor. This led Immigration to become a well-organized corporate business.
The years 1851, from 1866 to 73, 1881-83, and 1905 also witnessed the spur in Immigration. For eg. Immigration from Russia was basically due to the Pogorm in 1881 and regional harvest failures. England too abolished slavery in 1832, followed by France in 1843 which enabled many former slaves to go to the US
where laborers were needed. The lure of money from their relatives in homeland too prompted migration. Between 1870 and 1914, America also began to be symbolized a paradise of potential (civic) freedom in the eyes of members of oppressed nationalities or religious minorities.
At that time more Italians have migrated to the United States than any other Europeans. Poverty, overpopulation, and natural disaster all spurred Italian emigration. The same forces of population pressure, unemployment, and the breakdown of agrarian societies sent Chinese, French Canadians, Greeks, Japanese, Mexicans, and Slavs to the United States. Yet while these migrants tended to view themselves as “sojourners,” as temporary migrants, most would stay in the United States permanently.
The decade of 1901-1910, also saw 8.8 million legal immigrants. Adding to it the settlement of illegal aliens made 1990s the period of greatest immigration in America’s history. (Center For Immigration Studies, https://www.cis.org/topics/history.html
Then 1921 and 1924 Legislations saw the cut in the raw number of immigrants. 1921 act allocated annual quotas by country of origin equal to 3% of that nation’s existing ethnic stock in the US as of 1910. In 1924, this was amended to 2%. This Quota put an immediate stop to mass migration originating from southern and eastern Europe, China and Mexico but Immigration never completely stopped, people kept coming during the 1930’s-sometimes legally, sometimes illegally- and Europeans found their way to USA even during the Second World War, but not to the same extent.
In fact, with 154,000 immigrants per year, (the equivalent of over 300,000 today, relative to population) the US was still far and away the world’s largest recipient of immigration during the 19th century. Immigration remained relatively low during the 20 years following World War II, because the 1920s national-origins system remained in place after Congress re-codified and combined all previous immigration and naturalization law into the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952. Yet American agriculture continued to import seasonal labor from Mexico, as they had during the war, under a 1951 formal agreement between the United States and Mexico that made the Bracero Program permanent. (Locke Robert, 6th Sep. 2002).
In 1965, Congress replaced the national origins system with a preference system to unite immigrant families and attract skilled immigrants to the United States. This change led to the changes in the sources of immigration. Now the majority of applicants for immigration visas started coming from Asia and Latin America rather than Europe but the preference system continued which limited the number of immigration visas available each year, not until the Refugee Act of 1980 made the United States to have a general policy governing the admission of refugee.
The policy, which was established in the year 1965 are still largely in place, though modified several times. In 1976, the categorical preference system was extended to applicants from the Western Hemisphere. In 1978, the numerical restrictions for Eastern and Western Hemisphere immigration were combined into a single annual worldwide ceiling of 290,000. And The Immigration Act of 1990 added a category of admission based on diversity and increased the worldwide immigrations ceiling to the current “flexible” cap of 675,000 per year. That cap can exceed 675,000 in any year when unused visas from the family-sponsored and employment-based categories are available from the previous year. For example, if only 625,000 people were admitted in 2006, the cap would then be raised to 725,000 for 2007.(Immigration Policies in United States, February, 2006).
CBO, Immigration Policy in The United States
Locke Robert, (2002, September 6), The History of American Immigration,
United States Information Agency, “An Outline of American History”..