Get the latest market trends in your inbox

Stay on top of the latest market trends and economic insights with the Axios Markets newsletter. Sign up for free.

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Catch up on coronavirus stories and special reports, curated by Mike Allen everyday

Catch up on coronavirus stories and special reports, curated by Mike Allen everyday

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Denver news in your inbox

Catch up on the most important stories affecting your hometown with Axios Denver

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Des Moines news in your inbox

Catch up on the most important stories affecting your hometown with Axios Des Moines

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Minneapolis-St. Paul news in your inbox

Catch up on the most important stories affecting your hometown with Axios Minneapolis-St. Paul

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Tampa-St. Petersburg news in your inbox

Catch up on the most important stories affecting your hometown with Axios Tampa-St. Petersburg

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!
Expand chart
Data: IPUMS-USA, University of Minnesota; Chart: Harry Stevens/Axios

The share of the U.S. population made up by immigrants has returned to the levels at the turn of the 20th century — although the makeup of today's immigrant population looks very different.

Why it matters: As we saw a century ago, and are witnessing again now, immigration brings needed labor and economic benefits, but is often met with backlash from those who fear the America they know is slipping away.

America's immigrant population has ebbed and flowed over the decades as discriminatory policies have been instituted and repealed, international crises have arisen and faded, and the economy has boomed and faltered.

Two key policies:

  • The 1924 national origin quota meant few non-Europeans could come to the U.S. Coupled with the Great Depression and the lead-up to World War II, this contributed to the sharp declines seen from the early 1900s until around 1965, Jeanne Batalova, a senior policy analyst at the Migration Policy Institute, told Axios.
  • The quotas were lifted with the 1965 Immigration and Naturalization Act — which is largely still the law of the land. This came during the civil rights movement and the Cold War to win over African and Asian nations to capitalism and democracy, according to Batalova.

Where immigrants have come from:

  • For most of the 19th and 20th centuries, the vast majority of immigrants came from Western and Northern Europe. The Irish fled famine, the Germans fled political instability, and Italians primarily wanted better economic opportunity.
  • The 1965 act ended a program that allowed Mexicans to work on U.S. farms but remain residents of Mexico. That changed the nature of immigration from Mexico and from Central America "to primarily unauthorized," Batalova says.
    • In 1986, the U.S. gave legal status to almost 3 million undocumented immigrants — an overwhelming majority of them from Mexico. These new green card holders could then sponsor additional family members.
    • There has been a surge of Central American asylum seekers in the U.S. over the past several years as political chaos, poverty and violence have ravaged many of those nations.
  • New laws also opened the door to immigration from Asia — initially from India and Taiwan, and later China.
  • Following the Vietnam War, there was an influx of Vietnamese people and other citizens of the region who fled to the U.S. as refugees.
  • Most recently, there's been a wave of immigration from African countries that began in the 1990s and 2000s for a wide variety of economic, political and humanitarian reasons.

The big picture: Nationalist phobias prompted the original immigrant quotas in the U.S., according to Guillermo Cantor, research director at the American Immigration Council. There were fears that the number of Chinese coming to the U.S. for work would change the culture, or that German would become the dominant language in Pennsylvania. There are echoes of those sentiments in the current political climate.

What's next: Congress has been slow to make major changes to immigration laws, and many of the Trump administration's efforts have been held up in courts, making it difficult to predict just yet whether current trends will be reversed, immigration experts tell Axios.

Get more stories like this by signing up for our twice-weekly look at the world's biggest trends, Axios Future. 

Go deeper

Updated 10 mins ago - Politics & Policy

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

  1. Health: Coronavirus may have been in U.S. in December 2019, study finds — Hospital crisis deepens as holiday season nears.
  2. Politics: Bipartisan group of senators unveil $908 billion COVID stimulus proposalFDA chief was called to West Wing to explain why agency hasn't moved faster on vaccine — The words that actually persuade people on the pandemic
  3. Vaccine: Moderna to file for FDA emergency use authorizationVaccinating rural America won't be easy — Being last in the vaccine queue is young people's next big COVID test.
  4. States: Cuomo orders emergency hospital protocols as New York's COVID capacity dwindles.
  5. World: European regulators to assess first COVID-19 vaccine by Dec. 29
  6. 🎧 Podcast: The state of play of the top vaccines.

Bipartisan group of senators unveils $908 billion COVID stimulus proposal

Sens. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Susan Collins (R-Maine) in the Capitol in 2018. Photo: Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call

A bipartisan group of senators on Tuesday proposed a $908 billion coronavirus stimulus package, in one of the few concrete steps toward COVID relief made by Congress in several months.

Why it matters: Recent data shows that the economic recovery is floundering as coronavirus cases surge and hospitals threaten to be overwhelmed heading into what is likely to be a grim winter.

Inside Patch's new local newsletter platform

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

Patch, the hyperlocal (and profitable) local digital news company, has built a new software platform called "Patch Labs" that lets local news reporters publish their own newsletters and websites, sources tell Axios.

Why it matters: It follows a growing trend of journalists going solo via newsletters at the national level.

Get Axios AM in your inbox

Catch up on coronavirus stories and special reports, curated by Mike Allen everyday

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!