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Immigration History

First Wave 1630-43

John Winthrop in the Arbella led a "Great Migration" of 20,000 Puritans from England to Massachusetts.

Second Wave 1707-44

Starting with French devastation of the German Palatinate in 1707, population in America jumped 500% from 400,000 to 2 million, especially due to Germans and Scotch-Irish, with an internal migration into the Shenandoah mountains and valleys along the Great Wagon Road.

State system 1789-1862

Immigration matters were left up to individual states, but Section 1, Article 8 of the Constitution enumerated to Congress the power "to establish a uniform rule of naturalization" and Congress passed the first naturalization law in 1790, granting citizenship to "free, white persons of good moral character" after residence in a state for one year and in the United States for two years, raised to five years in 1802. Congress in 1802 allowed "any court of record" to grant citizenship, starting the proliferation of 5000 naturalization courts with widely varied practices for the next 100 years.

Third Wave 1815-75

1815 - a third wave of immigration began with the end of the Napoleonic Wars, with 9 million arriving in the U.S. by 1875, including 3 million from Ireland, 2.5 million from Germany, 1.5 million from Britain, with 70% entering through the port of New York and after 1855 through Castle Garden.

Federal system 1862-1924

Congress passed the first immigration restriction law in 1862 that prohibited American vessels to transport Chinese immigrants to the U.S., and created the Bureau of Immigration in 1864 to oversee importation of Chinese contract laborers.

Fourth Wave 1875-1920

The New Immigration brought 21 million from eastern and southern Europe, Congress passed the Chinese Exclusion Act in 1882, created the Office of the Superintendent of Immigration in the Treasury Department in 1891 to oversee the new U.S. Immigrant Inspectors stationed at the principal ports of entry, especially Ellis Island, created the Immigration Service in 1897 in the Department of Justice, passed the Immigration Act of 1917.

Quota System 1921-1965

The terms of the 1921 quota system prohibited no more than 3 percent of the number of foreign-born residents of that nationality living in the U.S. in 1910. The system was changed in 1924 and was based on the desirability of various nationalities. Congress in 1924 created the U.S. Border Patrol within the Immigration Service. Executive Order 6166 of June 10, 1933, combined the Immigration Service and the Naturalization Bureau into one agency, the Immigration and Naturalization Service. Congress passed the War Brides Act of 1945, the Displaced Persons Act of 1948, the Refugee Relief Act of 1953, the Hungarian Refugee Act of 1956, and the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952.

Fifth Wave 1965-2000

In 1965 amendments to the 1952 immigration law, passed as the Immigration and Naturalization Act of 1965, Congress replaced the national origins system with a preference system designed to reunite immigrant families and attract skilled immigrants to the United States. The effects of the 1965 Act were immediate and significant. Within 5 years, Asian immigration would more than quadruple. This trend was magnified even further by the surge in refugees from the war in South East Asia. Almost half of the 8 million immigrants would come from Asia. The largest number in this wave were the 4.3 million from Mexico. Not until the Refugee Act of 1980 did the United States have a general policy governing the admission of refugees. The Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 allowed most illegal aliens who have reside in the U.S. continuously since January 1 of 1982 to apply for legal status and prohibited employers from hiring illegal aliens and mandated penalties for violations. The Immigration Act of 1990 set an annual maximum of 700,000 immigrants allowed to enter the U.S. for the next three years and an annual maximum of 675,000 per year for every year thereafter. The 1996 Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act sponsored by Barbara Jordan made it easier to deport aliens without documentation - major provisions from FAIR . The INS staff increased from 8,000 in the late 1970s to more than 30,000 in 36 INS districts at home and abroad by 2000.

Immigration Reform 2001-2006

The terrorist attack Sept. 11, 2001, caused a fundamental change in the structure of immigration agencies. On Sept. 20, President Bush authorized the created the Office of Homeland Security and appointed Tom Ridge as its first Director. On Jan. 23, 2002, Congress created theDepartment of Homeland Security and since March 1, 2003, this DHS includes several Immigration & Borders agencies: the U. S, Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) and the U. S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). Since 2001, the focus of immigration reform and legislation has been enforcement and border security.


revised 5/7/03 by Schoenherr | Map list | Immigration chart | Links