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Illustration: Lazaro Gamio/Axios

Around a century ago, amid a massive surge of immigrants, Americans — themselves virtually all of foreign blood — pushed back in what turned into a more than four-decade-long uprising against newcomers.

Now, the U.S. immigrant population is nearing the same proportions, and again Americans are revolting.

Why it matters: The new wave of migration is, along with automation, one of the primary drivers behind the anti-establishment uprising roiling both the U.S. and Europe, experts say.

  • At 13.5% last year, the population of foreign-born U.S. residents is nearing the peak of 14.8%, reached in 1890.
  • If history holds, the U.S. is entering a new, prolonged era of anti-immigrant fever.
  • And, if so, it won't be easy to tamp down: The last time, it took the legislative mastery of Lyndon Johnson to quell the hysteria, in a bill he muscled through Congress in 1965. But now there is no Johnson.
"We've begun the 21st century as we began the 20th. The target may be different, but the anxiety is the same."
— Muzaffar Chishti, director of the Migration Policy Institute at New York University law school

The background: The U.S. has gone through waves of anti-immigrant fevers.

  • In the 1850s, a movement began that was anti-Catholic and anti-Irish, and it turned into the Know Nothing political party.
  • In the late 19th century, another wave arose against a surge of some 9 million eastern and southern Europeans.
  • In 1921, Congress approved the Emergency Quota Act and then the National Origins Act, which kept allowing western and northern Europeans but all but blocked almost anyone else. Asians were effectively barred.

Then, in 1965, Johnson pushed through legislation that ended the quota system. But experts say the current fever is in large part an unforeseen byproduct of that legislation: By linking immigration to relatives of the current population, Congress thought the makeup of the U.S. population would not change much. Instead, it resulted in the surge of immigrants from Latin America and elsewhere (see chart below).

Expand chart
Data: IPUMS-USA, University of Minnesota (1900–2000), U.S. Census Bureau (2010, 2017); Chart: Harry Stevens/Axios

As researchers have sought an answer for the Western world's abrupt pivot to populism, the main explanations they have settled on are:

  • The long period of flat wages and joblessness, pushing people into a dispiriting plunge out of the middle class. At fault have been automation, globalization and trade deals that have buoyed the overall global economy but created pockets of profound blight.
  • But the more potent dynamic has been migration — a cultural defensiveness rooted in the feeling that one's accustomed way of life is under attack by newcomers.
  • "The first wave of immigration produced the National Origin quota system. The second wave produced Trump," said Chishti. "The current wave has the same tone about immigration as the beginning of the 20th century."

Go deeper

Thousands without power as "hazardous" winter storm lashes East Coast

Winter view from Charlotte as winter storm Izzy creates dangerous conditions in Charlotte, N.C. on Jan. 16. Photo: Peter Zay/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

A major winter storm was lashing much of the East Coast on Sunday, causing widespread power outages and disrupting travel over the holiday weekend.

The big picture: Heavy snow and ice accumulations are "likely to produce hazardous travel," downed trees and more power outages from the Mid-South to the Northeast, per the National Weather Service. Some parts of the U.S. can expect to see up to a foot of snow through Monday.

Updated 3 hours ago - Science

Volcanic eruption in Tonga caused "significant" damage

This satellite image of the eruption on Jan. 15 taken by Himawari-8, a Japanese weather satellite operated by Japan Meteorological Agency and released by National Institute of Information and Communications Technology (NICT). Photo: NICT via AP

Significant damage has been reported in Tonga following an undersea volcanic eruption on Saturday, which covered the Pacific nation in ash and cut off communication lines.

Driving the news: The eruption triggered tsunami warnings across Tonga's islands and in other regions, including the West Coast of the U.S. and New Zealand.

3 hours ago - World

North Korea launches 4th suspected missile test this month

A news broadcast in Seoul, South Korea, of an apparent North Korean missile test on Monday morning local time. Photo: Jung Yeon-je/AFP via Getty Images

North Korea's military fired "two suspected short-range ballistic missiles" eastward from Pyongyang on Monday morning local time, per South Korean and Japanese officials.

Why it matters: The fourth such launch since Jan. 5 comes days after North Korea's military warned of "stronger" action if the U.S. moved to have more sanctions imposed on the country.