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  • Immigration. It’s been the defining characteristic of America since before our country even began,

  • so it’s important to remind ourselves of our rich history...of where we all came from

  • to create this one-of-a-kind melting pot of people that is the United States in the 21st

  • century.

  • The first successful colony in America was established in 1607 in Jamestown, Virginia

  • by English settlers. But, these first europeans arrived in a land that was already home to

  • other people. To indigenous, Native Americans who thousands of years before had crossed

  • over a land bridge from Siberia into what’s now the state of Alaska. They were the first

  • explorers of this beautiful land, and they would spread throughout the entire continent

  • and throughout central and southern America too. Native Americans thrived by harnessing

  • the power of nature, and over time, they formed into many distinct groups, each with their

  • own languages and cultures.

  • Then, in 1492, as legend has it, Christopher Columbus sailed the ocean blue and arrived

  • in the Bahamas and immediately encountered a group of these indigenous people called

  • the Arawak. The Arawak were curious and friendly, but Columbus was filled with greed, and took

  • some of them prisoner, demanding they show him where the gold they were wearing came

  • from. Now, the Native Americans were so easy going and poorly armed compared to these Europeans

  • - who had modern weaponry like metal-forged swords and armor, and even guns - that Columbus

  • said “I could conquer the whole of them with 50 men, and govern them as I pleased.”

  • And that’s exactly what he, and other Spanish conquistadors who came after him, did. They

  • vanquished indigenous group after indigenous group with cunning and sheer brutality, and

  • got a lot of help from diseases like smallpox that moved ahead of them and just wiped the

  • natives out.

  • When smallpox was taken to the new world nobody in the new world had every seen a disease

  • like this before. So the number of people who were susceptible was much greater. There

  • was no natural immunity, so the number of people who could contract the disease and

  • then spread, and the number of people to receive it once it’s been spread, was much higher.”

  • Some scholars think there may have been a population of 20 million native americans

  • and the vast majority, perhaps 95%, were killed by old world diseases. A continent virtually

  • emptied of its people.

  • Once word of the discovery of the New World spread throughout the Old World - the kingdoms

  • and empires of Europe - many people began to plan journeys of their own across the Atlantic

  • Ocean. Starting around 1620, tens of thousands of British, German and Dutch - but mostly

  • British Puritans - came to North America to escape religious persecution, or to search

  • for better opportunity, or simply for an adventure. The Puritans spread throughout New England

  • in the northeast, the Dutch settled along the Hudson River in New York and established

  • rich, successful trading posts and cities like New Amsterdam (which we now call New

  • York City). English Quakers established the Pennsylvania colony and its commercial center,

  • Philadelphia. More than 90% of these early colonists became farmers. And, because they

  • were living in small, widespread villages, disease didn’t spread as easily as it could

  • back in Europe, which kept the death rate among settlers in America low. All these farmers

  • needed large families to help them farm, which caused the population to boom, especially

  • in the New England colonies. As land became harder to come by along the coasts, the roughly

  • 350,000 Scottish and Northern Irish who arrived throughout the 1700’s settled inland in

  • western Pennsylvania and along the Appalachians deep into the south. The British sent 60,000

  • prisoners across the ocean to Georgia, although the only thing many of these men were guilty

  • of was being poor and out of work.

  • Tobacco was a highly profitable cash crop in the southern colonies, so many British

  • settled there and began to take advantage of the thriving slave trade.

  • Those of us who study immigration history think in terms of why people leave their homelands

  • and why they come here. And those are generally encapsulated in two words: push and pull.

  • Something pushes them out of their homeland and something pulls them to the United States.

  • Now obviously in the earliest cases of slavery they were not necessarily pushed from their

  • homeland, but they were taken from their homeland. But the reason why they were taken was because

  • there was labor to be done here in the United States. It was a global force, the slave trade

  • was fairly global - at least in the Atlantic - and later Asia would become involved in

  • it as well. So here you have a forced migration.”

  • Hundreds of thousands of Africans were mercilessly captured and taken prisoner in their own lands,

  • then put on ships bound for America, where they were sold into a life of hard labor for

  • no pay, and no chance at freedom.

  • [Graph] This is the population breakdown of the country around 1790, shortly after the

  • colonieshard-won war of independence with the British and the adoption of the American

  • constitution, which made the country of the United States official. The Native American

  • population was so decimated by disease, war, and migration to the west, that only about

  • 100,000 were left inside the territorial United States.

  • Out west, many Spaniards moved north from Mexico across the Rio Grande to settle in

  • California, Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona. Not all of these settlers were of European

  • descent. They all could speak spanish, but ethnically, they were a melting pot of whites,

  • Indians and mestizos, or people of mixed race.

  • French settlers established footholds mainly along the Saint Lawrence River and the Great

  • Lakes, along the Mississippi River, and along the Gulf Coast, establishing the city of New

  • Orleans. Their descendants are known as Cajuns.

  • These French and Spanish populations would be incorporated into the United States in

  • the coming decades through the Louisiana Purchase and the granting of statehood to the western

  • territories.

  • After more than four decades of relatively little immigration into America after its

  • founding, in the 1830’s, tens of thousands of immigrants began arriving on her eastern

  • shores, again, mainly from Britain, Ireland and Germany. Some were attracted to the cheap

  • farmland that was made available by westward expansion, while others took advantage of

  • the manufacturing boom in the cities sparked by the industrial revolution. The Irish were

  • mainly unskilled laborers who built most of the railroads and canals, took jobs in the

  • emerging textile mill towns in the Northeast, or worked in the ports. About half of the

  • Germans became farmers, mainly in the midwest, and the other half became craftsman in urban

  • areas. Asian immigrants - mainly from China - began crossing the Pacific to work as laborers,

  • particularly on the transcontinental railroad or in the mines.

  • [History Professor Scott Wong] “Immigration also during the 19th century was usually male

  • dominatedmales in their prime working years between the years of 18-25. The Irish being

  • the one exception. Eventually there would be more Irish women who immigrated than Irish

  • men. Immigrants to this day often follow established patterns. They leave on village or one city

  • and go to another city in the United States because someone has already established that

  • pattern for them. People go to where they know people. And those people here can often

  • arrange for jobs and places to live and so on. It was often said that your first job

  • coming off the boat was whoever picked you up at the docks. Now people say your first

  • job is whoever picked you up at the airport.

  • [Show graph] After tripling from the decade before, in

  • just two more decades, from the 1830s to the 1850s, the amount of immigrants arriving in

  • the US each year tripled again, to about 170,000.

  • By the 1850s, when the total population of the country passed 20 million and things began

  • to get a bit crowded, America’s first measurable anti-immigrant feelings began to take root,

  • mainly targeting Irish-catholic immigrants who were arriving in large numbers to escape

  • the poverty and death of the potato famine that was hitting them hard at home. But with

  • a huge boom on the horizon, this early xenophobia was nothing compared to what would come later.

  • Large, steam-powered ships took to the seas after 1880, replacing the older, slower sailing

  • ships, which meant it was suddenly much faster - and cheaper - to cross the ocean, making

  • the dream of a journey to America more accessible to many around the world.

  • Processed and ticketed, they waited for their ship. They boarded in many parts of

  • Europe and in many kinds of vessels. Most to New York and some to other ports. But they

  • had one thing in commonthey were traveling steerage, and the steamship companies understood

  • the profit in numbers.”

  • [Chart] Before long, millions of immigrants were arriving

  • on America’s shores. They passed through immigration processing stations like Ellis

  • Island in New York and Angel Island in San Francisco Bay. This wave was much more diverse

  • than before. Coming mainly from Southern Europe, it was led by Italians, Poles, Greeks, Swedes,

  • Norwegians, Hungarians, Jews, Lebanese, and Syrians.

  • It was as if god’s great promise had been fulfilled. I’m going into a free land.

  • I don’t think I ever can explain the feeling I had that time. It’s not my native land,

  • but it means more to me than my native landit means more to me than my native landAny

  • country on earth this never happen. And become a human being again--it’s a miracle...everybody

  • had hopes. And one thing I was sure, and thousands like me: that the degradation, and the abuse,

  • and the piration that we had in Europe, we wouldn’t have here.”

  • This group was young, most were under 30 years old, mainly because an entire generation of

  • the children of farmers and factory workers in Europe and the Russian empire couldn’t

  • find work because the owners of the farms and factories preferred to have an efficient

  • machine - that they didn’t have to pay - do the work instead of a human being. Well, this

  • was fine by America, whose steel, coal, automobile, textile, and garment production industries

  • were booming. It happily took in this pool of eager, hard workers and put them to work

  • in its growing industrial cities.

  • As mills and factories sprouted across the land, cities grew up around them. In turn,

  • the cities beckoned to workers by the millions from the American countryside and from overseas

  • to fuel the burgeoning industrialization. What was once a rural nation was rapidly becoming

  • an urban state. From 1860 to 1910, the urban population grew from over 6 million to over

  • 44 million.”

  • The United States also took full advantage of Europe’s paralyzation during the first

  • World War. With millions dying in the midst of the bloodiest struggle the European continent

  • had ever seen, every country there had to completely focus its industries on producing

  • all the supplies - the guns, the uniforms, the tanks, the boats, the bullets - all the

  • stuff needed to carry on and win the fight. But with many of its working-aged men on the

  • front lines, in hospitals or at home after horrific injuries - or dead - the factories

  • of Europe couldn’t meet all the demand, so US factories made up for the shortfall

  • in production. Before long, the United States had leapt to the front ranks of the world’s

  • economic giants. And when the Americans entered the conflict themselves in 1917, US industry

  • was now tasked with supplying its own soldiers too.

  • It was during this 50-year immigration wave, from about 1870-1920, when many well-off,

  • white, native-born Americans began to consider mass immigration a danger to the health and

  • security of the country. They started actively organizing to exert political power to slow

  • it down. The first immigration law in American history was known as the Asian Exclusion Act.

  • It was passed in 1875 and - you guessed it - outlawed Asians, specifically Asian contract

  • laborers, from stepping foot on American soil, plus any other people considered convicts

  • in their own countries.

  • In 1921, Congress pushed through a law that marked a turning-point in American immigration

  • policy--a law that passed the Senate 78-1. The Emergency Quota Act set strict limits

  • on the amount of immigrants who would be allowed into the country each year. It was very effective.

  • The number of new immigrants let in fell from over 800,000 in 1920 to just over 300,000

  • admitted in 1921. [CHART]

  • If the pace of immigration had been like a raging river, this law acted like a dam. But

  • that drop off in the flow of persons into America still didn’t satisfy the anti-immigration

  • crowd who, just three years later in 1924, forced congress to tighten the quota even

  • more, established the border patrol, and stated that any undocumented immigrants who entered

  • the country were subject to deportation. It’s during this time that the definition ofillegal

  • alienwas born, a term that would be used to stigmatize the next group the anti-immigration

  • community’s crosshairs became fixed on: latin-american migrants living and working

  • in the US Southwest.

  • After the quota laws passed by the US Congress in the 1920’s, immigration was capped for

  • the first time in American history.

  • One of the exceptions to the strict quotas were documented contract workers from the

  • western hemisphere who could come into and out of the US freely. The other major exception

  • were the hundreds of thousands of refugees who were allowed in, mainly Jews escaping

  • the horrors of the Holocaust during and after World War II, and the roughly 400,000 families

  • who fled Cuba after the Castro-led revolution of 1959. The US entrance into World War II

  • also meant many more Mexican workers were needed to fill in for all the young American

  • men who were off fighting the Germans in Europe and the Japanese in the Pacific. At the end

  • of this period, between 1944 and 1954, the number of immigrants coming from Mexico increased

  • by 6,000 percent, as many Latin American workers were offered low wage agricultural jobs in

  • the American Southwest as part of the bracero program. But large numbers of Mexicans without

  • the necessary paperwork came in search of the American dream too, and what followed

  • is one of the ugliest periods in US immigration history.

  • With pressure mounting to do something about the thousands of immigrants easily crossing

  • the southern border each year, President Eisenhower turned to Gen. Joseph Swing, who launched

  • Operation Wetbackin 1954. That derogatory name reveals the insensitivity of the policy,

  • which directed hundreds of federal officials to lead thousands of local police officers

  • on sweeps through neighborhoods throughout the American southwest, stopping anyMexican

  • lookingperson and demanding to see their papers. If they didn’t have their papers,

  • they were arrested and deported. Some estimates put the amount of illegal immigrants thrown

  • out of the country above one million, leading to countless families being torn apart. In

  • some cases, their American-born children were even sent away. Obviously, this program angered

  • many Mexican-American citizens, and anyone else who saw it as a blatant violation of

  • human rights on a massive scale.

  • [History professor Miguel Levario] “What we have here is an aggressive and sort of

  • paramilitary approach to deportation and mass deportation and of course the use of propaganda

  • to address the issue of unauthorized Mexican workers in the United States. Because the

  • Border Patrol agency was so small - I mean, theyre using local law enforcement - so

  • while theyre out there trying to look for undocumented immigrants what aren’t they

  • doing? Their own basic responsibilities of keeping neighborhoods safe, addressing burglaries,

  • murders, whatever it could be. Operation Wetback was terminated in large part because of cost,

  • in large part because it just became too taxing on local resources. We also found out that

  • regardless of how far you sent them into the interior, within days, sometimes weeks, they

  • were right back in there.

  • The final era of immigration to America is the one were still currently in, which

  • began in 1965 with the passage of the Hart-Celler Act. This law finally replaced the unfair

  • quota system with a policy that gives preference to immigrants who have relatives already in

  • the United States, or people with job skills that are highly sought after. All other past

  • restrictions targeting specific groups were thrown out. This was one of the crown jewels

  • in President Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society program and it fundamentally shifted who was

  • allowed in.

  • [CHART]

  • In 1970, 60% of immigrants came from Europe, this number just fell off a cliff by the year

  • 2000, when only 15% were from Europe. The one thing that didn’t change were the many

  • undocumented immigrants from Latin America who continued to come across the border in

  • search of a better life. So, in an effort to address this, in 1986, President Ronald

  • Reagan signed the Immigration Reform and Control Act, which gave green cards to about 2.7 million

  • immigrants. It was the largest single moment of legalization in American history. As a

  • conservative from the anti-immigration party in modern America, the Republican Reagan compromised

  • in exchange for more restrictions on employers who hire illegal immigrants, and tighter border

  • security. But it was a flawed law in a number of ways, mainly, it didn’t effectively fix

  • the broken system that was allowing businesses to hire illegal immigrants in the first place.

  • So since the businesses could still break the rules, many low paying jobs remained for

  • the millions of undocumented immigrants in America that the law didn’t legalize. The

  • bill also didn’t adequately fund and equip the border patrol, which meant there was still

  • a fairly consistent flow of people coming across the border.

  • To fix some of these problems, Sen. Ted Kennedy introduced, and Congress passed, the Immigration

  • Act of 1990, which President George H.W. Bush signed into law. This increased the number

  • of legal immigrants entering the United States from around 500,000 per year to 700,000--an

  • increase of 40%. This bill is also noteworthy because it was bipartisan, with a democratically-controlled

  • congress working with a Republican president to pass major, common-sense immigration reform.