Contact | Get involved! | Login

Immigration to the US

 

The United States were born a land of immigrants and since the beginning,  when the territory was still a colony of Great Britain, Spain and France and the native Americans, the original inhabitants of those lands, were forced to progressively leave them, and were excluded from the building of the American new nations. The USA  have always been a magnet for migrants –just like Australia, New Zealand, Canada. In all these countries migration followed similar lines, and it is not by chance that, as a matter of fact, natives from all these countries have the same reasons to complain about their mistreatments. Besides, most migrants reached those countries from Europe.

 

The first questions that come to mind when talking about immigration to the U.S. are very likely to be: why the United States of America?, and why there and not somewhere else?

 

The reason, most probably, was one: in Europe it was extremely difficult, even impossible, to raise one’s status. If you were born a farmer, you wouldn’t have died a wealthy possident. Exceptions were possible, but very rare.

 

Very much depended also on the country the migrants are leaving: was it a rich one? A poor one? Europe was, until at least the First World War, richer and more powerful than the US. And yet, the peak of emigration was reached in the XIX century.

 

You surely have heard of the American Dream. It has been probably the bulk of American pride: anyone could become anything, in the US. Possibilities seemed infinite, those who were starving in Europe could very well end up in a mansion in New York. This is what, for many, the American Dream consisted of. This is why so many people from Europe decided to leave their homeland to try their fate beyond the Ocean. Today, many people do the same.

 

How much of this Dream was actually true?  There was indeed a bigger social mobility in the US back than than in Europe, resources were more available, acquiring land was indeed easier. But for how many was this an available option? In the end, only few managed to make their American dream come true.

 

The migration to the United States reached its peak between the XIXth and the XXth centuries, when there was a desperate shortage of people to do the key jobs that were helping the US to grow into the world economic power that it now is.  When the US experienced the Great Crash and the Great Depression took its tool (1929-39), it introduced quotas to limit the influx of migrants - just as many European countries also did at that time.  Subsequently there have been other periods when both the US and the former European colonial powers have reintroduced quotas and other forms of immigration control. Migration experiences depended also on the period in which they were taking place.

 

For most of the immigrants to the US this story was a hard one, at least for the common beginnings. It is a story of humilation, deprivation, sometimes death, illness (you’ll read about putting immigrants in quarantine after their arrival, for instance). Ellis Island, in New York, still symbolizes the sacrifice the immigrants had to make to finally enter the US. And after that, again, the strive for integration, the loss of (or the tenacious hold on) the previous identity...

 

Their stories are the history of the US. Each one of the immigrants made the United States the country it is today.

Case study pages

Sources

Connections

 

Europe for Citizens ProgrammeHistoriana is developed by EUROCLIO and partners with the support of the Europe for Citizens programme of the European Union. This website reflects the views only of the author, and the Commission cannot be held responsible for any use which may be made of the information contained therein. EUROCLIO has tried to contact all copyright holders of material published on Historiana, please contact copyright@historiana.eu in case copyright material has been unrighfully used.