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Immigration to the USA started during the Colonial period in America. The United States symbolized freedom and opportunities for millions of people in the world during that period. The U.S. was characterized with fast economic and political development and greeted the newcomers with respect to their diversity. However, internal economy experienced a crisis and the American society was developing rather slowly. Therefore, the United States established the immigration policy in 1920, which is still applied nowadays.

At the present time, the immigration policy is still widely discussed in the United States. When President Barack Obama was re-elected in 2012, government tried to pass the new immigration policy by implementing the Comprehensive Immigration Reform. This immigration policy was once declined in 2006, and government still tries to restrict the immigrants coming to the U.S. Therefore, at the moment, the Reform can still be passed into law.

It is the general idea that history of American immigration can be divided into three main epochs: the Colonial period 1600-1775, the mid-19th century period, and period after 1965. Each period has brought various races, national groups, and ethnicities to the USA (Mora, 2011).

Colonial Period of American Immigration (1600-1775)

The longest era of American Colonization, which lasted from 1607 to 1775, brought first European immigrants (primarily those of British, Dutch, and German origin) and African slaves. During that period, there was no established policy of immigration as there was no such state as the USA. However, it is of immense importance to analyze the process of American colonization, which later influenced the American policy on immigration.

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The first immigrants who came to the U.S. during the Colonial period were from Europe. Most of them were settlers who sought religious toleration or regular merchants. When they arrived to North America, they met groups of indigenous people who originally lived there. Moreover, an immense part of the people who immigrated to America was slaves brought from Africa, which were forcefully transported over the Atlantic Ocean. Merchants needed slaves for cheap labor force, so convicts and slaved were transported to America. Consequently, the act of English convicts resulted in the passage of immigration enforcement legislation (Mora, 2011).

It is evident that the largest group of new arrivals was comprised of the British. As a matter of fact, they were not immigrants at the time as America was a colony of the British Empire. More than 90% of all immigrants of that period became farmers. Moreover, a large number of young people came along by themselves as indentured servants (Schneider, 2000).

In 1607, the first English colony in Jamestown, Virginia was founded. The colony was established due to the tobacco plantations in Virginia and Maryland as it was considered a profitable unit. In 1620, English Pilgrims established a settlement near Plymouth in Massachusetts. These immigrants sought their religious freedom in America. The religious immigration of English Puritans continued during 1629-1640.

The earliest colonies of Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Rhode Island were mostly established along the Northeast part of the continent. Immigration to these regions continued before 1700, but small arrivals later continued.

The New England settlements occurred during 1629-1641. They were established by settlers from East England (Essex, Kent, Norfolk, Suffolk, and East Sussex). In 150 years, their descendants occupied New York and the New England States. In fact, they were the most educated and urban of all American colonists. Many talented tradesmen and farmers were among them. In 1635, they founded their first college, Harvard, in order to train their ministers. Mild and healthy climate of the territory where they settled, small widespread villages, and food supply resulted in them later having the highest birth rate and the lowest death rate among the immigrants (Mora, 2011).

The Dutch settlements were established in New York in 1626. Wealthy Dutch immigrants established large landed farms along the Hudson River and employed farmers. Others created trading posts for the trade relations with the Natives.

New Jersey, New York, Delaware, and Pennsylvania formed the middle colonies. Pennsylvanian population was formed by Quakers from British, Irish, and German Protestant sects (Schneider, 2000).

Having analyzed the historical development of the Colonial period, one can mention that 13 American colonies had many differences, but also many things in common. Nearly all of them migrated and were financed by privately owned groups of English colonists or families without significant Parliamentary or Royal input or support. Therefore, most immigrants were almost independent from trade with England as they could make or grow everything they needed.

As for the German and Dutch Americans, they spoke their languages brought from Europe. They also established their own courts and governments. This system of self-ruling caused that other settlements had their own governments. In such conditions, they learned how to tolerate each other’s religions and nations (Mora, 2011).

Colonization of the U.S. after 1775 or the Mid-19th Century Period

When the United States was created, there was an argument concerning whom to consider the Founding Fathers of the U.S. At the time, the population mainly consisted of the Europeans who were the settlers from different counties and spoke different languages, Native Americans, and African slaves. Despite the evidence, African Slaves and Native Americans were not considered the U.S. citizens. Only the Europeans were considered the Founding Fathers of the U.S. in the Colonial Period. At this point, the first Federalist political party of the U.S. was established (Schneider, 2000).

The followers of this party were afraid of the French immigrants who were coming to America, being influenced by the democratic principles of the French Revolution. Thus, in 1795, the Congress passed the Naturalization Law, which main requirement for immigrants was to be a resident from 2 to 5 years in order to be considered a U.S. citizen. This law regarded only white immigrants from Europe, which was obviously a racial discrimination with regards to African slaves and Native People. This racial requirement remained effective until 1952, although in the 1940s the Law was opened to immigrants from Asia. In 1798, Federalist Party changed the law to fourteen years of American residence and additionally passed the Aliens and Sedition Acts. Those acts empowered the President to deport any immigrants who were deemed to pose a threat to national security of the U.S. (Yans-McLaughlin, 1990).

During the 19th century, a lot of immigrants from Europe migrated to the United States. This was influenced by two factors; the first factor was the desire of people to leave their home countries for the USA, and the second factor was the desire of the U.S. authority to have them as immigrants. For example, a lot of first European immigrants were from Ireland and Germany. The famine in Ireland and the loss of their land conquered by the British pushed them to immigrate to the United States. Similarly, Germany faced economic depression during that period, and the religious pressure influenced people leaving their country.

As a matter of fact, European immigrants were quite beneficial to the United States. First of all, they benefitted the U.S. economy; the rapid industrialization raised the need for the cheap labor force, and the United States started claiming land from the Spanish and Native Americans in the western part of North America (Schneider, 2000).

Nevertheless, the large number of immigrants was afraid of certain groups of people. According to the data taken from the report of 1838 of the Congressional Select Committee, the congressional members considered that the increased immigration rate was a threat to the “peace and tranquility of the citizens” and described immigrants as “vagrants, paupers, and malefactors… at the expense of foreign authority to relieve them from the burden of their maintenance”. The anti-immigrant fear led to the creation of groups against the immigrants, such as the Know Nothing Party and Order of the Star Spangled Banner. They wanted to forbid immigration of Catholics to the USA. In order to reduce the tension from anti-immigration groups, Congress passed an exclusion law, which forbade prostitutes and convicts to immigrate to the United States. In fact, this law ended an open immigration policy of the USA (Schneider, 2000).

Another wave of immigrants entered the United States between 1860 and 1915. These immigrants were mostly from Austria, Russia, and Italy, and many of them were Jewish. Although the United States needed the labor force, there was a strong anti-immigrant attitude from the new growing American population.

Members of the Congress decided that immigrants should pass a medical exam before entering the U.S. territory and were obliged to have no criminal records to immigrate to the U.S. This was regulated by the Congress Act of 1891.

In 1903, the U.S. authority was also worried about the European radicals entering the country. Consequently, government added subversives and anarchists to the list of 1891 Act. President Theodore Roosevelt and the Congress decided to create the Dillingham Commission to report on the effects immigration had on the country. The results demonstrated that immigration was not beneficial to the U.S. because immigrants were inferior to the U.S. citizens. The Commission submitted a recommendation that the United States should no longer accept immigrants from Southern and Eastern Europe. It also concluded that all immigrants had to pass a literacy test before becoming citizens of the USA (Schneider, 2000).

Soon after that, in 1917 under Wilson’s administration, the Congress passed the first Act, which included a test on literacy. In 1924, the National Origins Act was passed, limiting the number of immigrants who entered the USA. The law effectively prevented the U.S. from the large immigration flow from European countries.

Similar to the immigration of the Europeans, the Chinese started migrating to the United States after the rapid population growth and food shortage in their country. Other reasons for their migration were the Taiping rebellion and the Opium War. The Chinese endured U.S. immigration priorities, which were constantly changing, because they could be used for the cheap labor. Initially, United States’ businesses started recruiting Chinese men for some period. The idea was that they would come to the U.S. and work temporarily, save costs, and return back to China. California supported Chinese immigration and let a lot of immigrants settle in the western part of the country. Nevertheless, priorities shifted when in 1848 gold was discovered in California. Several gold mines were banned to the Chinese. After the Civil War, the Chinese were again recruited to build levees and railroads. When all the projects were finished, they chose to stay in the U.S. and entered the service industry. They refused to return to their country because they could not provide enough money there to live a well-off life (Yans-McLaughlin, 1990).

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However, because they took a lot of jobs and were considered a threat to the society, many laws were passed with an aim to exclude them from the society. In 1882, the passage of the Chinese Exclusion Act put racism into law, rejecting citizenship for Chinese immigrants and denying their entry into the USA. This was not cancelled until 1943 when China and the USA became allies during World War II. In 1906, Congress added the ability to speak and understand English to the requirements listed in Naturalization law, and in 1917 Congress designated Asia as “a barred zone”, which prohibited immigration from all Asian countries except for Japan and the Philippines.

In 1849, after the Mexican War, the United States annexed the territory that now includes Texas, California, New Mexico, Arizona, and parts of Utah, Colorado, and Nevada. The Mexicans were given an option to either return to Mexico or stay in what was newly considered the USA. Most refused to return, and the U.S. government did not pass any border laws (Burger, 2009).

The lack of border resulted in the fact that Mexican culture was developing within the American border. Mexican people could work in the U.S. and live in Mexico.

Between 1900 and 1930, Mexican immigration increased dramatically as cheap labor was once again needed in the U.S. Employers employed Mexicans to work in the agriculture sphere after the Chinese and Japanese immigrants were deprived of their right to work in the USA. Nevertheless, Mexican workers poorly benefitted from such work as they had no working rights. Any time they organized a strike against the abuse from employers, they were deported (Burger, 2009).

In the 1930s, the United States faced the Great Depression and its negative consequences. As a matter of fact, that influenced the first campaign against the Mexican immigration. Police officers and border patrol sent hundreds of thousands of people back to Mexico. Among them were also the citizens of the USA. The situation repeated during World War II when there was a labor force shortage in the U.S. In 1942, the “Bracero” program was implemented. Temporary workers were mainly from Mexico, but also the Bahamas, Barbados, Jamaica, and Canada. Most of all, they worked in the sphere of agriculture. Working conditions were extremely difficult for immigrants. They were paid little wages, and their children could not attend schools. In fact, farmers used the “Bracero” program long after the end of the war because farmworkers had no rights to organize or form unions, allowing their employers to pay their workers as little wages as they preferred. The program was ended in 1964 by the Congress.

The U.S. Immigration Policy after 1965

At the time John F. Kennedy was elected to the post of the President, he realized that the immigration laws needed reforms. He wrote a book “A Nation of Immigrants”, which explained why the USA needed to change the National Origins Act’s main provisions. Kennedy proposed passing a bill that could create a system, which would allow immigrants into the country based on special skills and family ties, called the Immigration and Nationality Act, known also as the Hart-Cellar Act. Later, President Johnson passed this bill into law. This new system had its main effect on some countries, especially Mexico. As a matter of fact, without quotas, there was a long list of Mexican people determined to immigrate to the USA. European immigration was one of the most prevalent before 1960, but after the 1965 Act a large number of Asian immigrants and immigrants from Hispanic countries increased rapidly. This resulted into fear and some racial concerns as well.

President Richard Nixon focused more on applying stricter enforcement laws in order to fight those concerns. Therefore, he implemented deportations and large scale raids in Mexican communities.

Then, President Ford created the Domestic Council Committee on Illegal Aliens in order to study the effects of illegal workers in the U.S. The Committee results demonstrated that immigrants benefited the economy as they gave more money in taxes than the government lost in healthcare or welfare (Yans-McLaughlin, 1990).

During Reagan’s administration, in 1986 the “Immigration Reform and Control Act” was passed. This act allowed legalization of status for both illegal agricultural workers and residents who had lived in the U.S. before 1982. It also stated the obligation of every employer to check the immigration status of his or her employees. In general, this bill addressed the needs of the illegal residents, but failed to solve the most crucial problems of the U.S. immigration system.

After the Cold War, new anti-immigrant movements appeared in the U.S., especially in California. California suffered from a prolonged recession crisis, in which many people lost their jobs and became unemployed. This resulted in a large anti-immigrant movement. The movement was mainly in California as it had the largest immigrant population. In 1994, California passed the Proposition 187. This document denied undocumented illegal children public health services and attending public schools. Some portions of the law were struck down by the courts. However, this influenced the fact that the President and the Congress focused more on enforcement. Border control was enforced by hiring border agents and building fences (Mora, 2011).

In 1996, Clinton’s administration passed into law the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act. The bill was aimed at easing the deportations and focused on immigrants who had criminal convictions. This bill also penalized employers who hired illegal workers. Moreover, Congress passed the Welfare Bill, which established barriers to any legal immigrant receiving food stamps and illegal immigrants receiving any public benefits in 1996. The same year, a large group of naturalized immigrants went to elections and raised their voice. What is more, the following year Congress returned some of the benefits to legal permanent residents (Burger, 2009).

After the September 11, 2001, Congress quickly implemented some enforcement measures in order to protect the national security of the U.S. In 2002, it passed the Enhanced Border Security and Visa Reform Act. This document created new methods of verification of documents when traveling to the USA from other countries and more advanced security checkpoints. In 2006, another bill was passed that allowed the construction of a fence along the southern border of the U.S. Since then, the United States’ government has continued to spend an immense sum of money on the enforcement of a more advanced immigration policy.

Comprehensive Immigration Reform Bill

The idea of the Comprehensive Immigration Reform for the U.S. started in 2004 when some American politicians began working on compromise legislation. The aim was to offer a balanced and decent approach to the situation where the Republicans could get the enforcement measures of border and the Democrats could get a permanent residency for the millions of illegal immigrants living in the country.

There was also an agreement that the plan had to include more strict sanctions against those employers who hired workers living in the U.S. illegally. They also supported a Guest Worker Program, which could provide a legal and reliable source of labor to the U.S. businesses without allowing them the U.S. permanent residency.

President Bush Jr. supported the plan and the movement of comprehensive reform in general. However, despite his support, the bill was not passed into law as the political situation changed due to the 2008 election. When President Obama took his office in 2009, he promised to push the reform in the Congress. Nevertheless, he pushed it back owing to the long-lasting argument with the Congressmen over healthcare and economic issues. Having been elected on the second term, President Obama promised to push the reform again, noting that not getting it done was his “biggest failure” (Moffet, 2013).

Nowadays, the contents of the reform have slightly changed. The key elements are: enhanced body security, which would include more funding on Border Patrol agents and monitoring devices, video cameras, checkpoints, and fencing on the Mexican border; more strict penalties to employers who had illegal workers, which would contain the required check on employee’s immigration status on the special network, and significant fines and penalties to those workers who hired illegal immigrants; a guest worker program, which would allow seasonal workers work and live in the USA legally for a specific period of time and return home and could satisfy the U.S.’s need for intermittent labor; a legal residency to more than 11 millions of people living in the country as illegal immigrants, which, in turn, would require immigrants to learn English, pay back taxes, pass a criminal checking, and pay fees for entering the process of legalization (Moffet, 2013).

In fact, supporters of the reform claim that the facts are extremely disturbing and that, according to U.S. Census bureau data, 12% of the population of the USA are foreign-born children, which is rather clothe to the highest point recorded in the USA in 1910, which was 14.7%. Moreover, the large turnout among Latinos and Hispanics for the 2012 election helped to soften the comprehensive reform opposition. The Comprehensive Reform was promised to be passed into law by the end of April 2013; however, one cannot predict the future of the reform (Moffet, 2013).


Analyzing history of immigration policy in the United States, one must have noticed that it demonstrates a clear pattern of policy decisions catered towards the need of the economy followed by the fear of the foreign. During the years of rapid economic development, the cheap labor was necessary for particular industries. Therefore, immigrants were welcomed into the United States. The excessive immigration was later one of the things that resulted in the decline of the economy. Consequently, anti-immigrant views appeared among the Americans. This led to the restriction of the number of accepted immigrants. Consequently, in 1920 the immigration policy was established. At the present time, the immigration policy of 1920, which is still valid, is widely discussed in the United Stated. The new way to modernize the immigration process in the U.S. is to implement the Comprehensive Immigration Reform. At the moment, the Reform can still be passed into law, so one can hope that this time there would be a success.