A flag with the silhouette of people in it with the words, History of US Immigration.

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Known as the melting pot of the world, the United States is rich in cultural diversity. Merging cultures have made the United States a leader in innovation and have helped create a deep history of passion, courage, and determination.

In today’s time, it can be easy to forget America’s unique heritage in all of the negativity of the media and the fear that comes with a changing world. In order to better celebrate and acknowledge America’s upbringing, this article focuses on the history of immigration in the United States.

The Late 1700s

In March of 1790, the United States Congress passed the first law about who would be granted citizenship. This was known as the Naturalization Act of 1790 and it allowed any free white person of good character who had been living in the United States for at least two years to apply for citizenship. These citizens were granted the right to vote, own property, and testify in court. For those without the citizenship status, these basic rights were denied.

In order to gain an accurate number of those who were eligible to apply for citizenship and those who were not, the United States took its first census. Out of the 3.9 million people counted to be living in the United States, English Europeans were the largest ethnic group. Also counted were the people of African heritage, which equaled out to be one for every five Europeans.


Once peace was reestablished between the United States and Britain after the war of 1812, the U.S. saw an increase of immigration from the Western European countries. The wealth and opportunities of the United States were appealing to many, leading them to cross the great Atlantic to give themselves a better chance at life. This lead to a major shift in demographics. The increased wave of immigrants would continue until the Civil War began.

The conditions on the immigrant ships were often inhumane. Extremely cramped, dirty, and full of rodents and other pests, disease spread quickly. Those who made it to the United States were often seriously ill. This caused disease to spread in the major port cities, including Boston, New York, Philadelphia, and Charleston. In order to protect the United States people from the threat of disease, The Steerage Act of 1819 was passed. It required better conditions of the ships coming into the country and that all captains have demographic information of its passengers. This created the United States first known records of ethnic composition for immigrants.

The Start of Hostility

In 1849, there was increased hostility towards certain demographic groups coming into the United States. This was due to citizens feeling threatened that their jobs were being taken away or that the immigrants made the wages lower. The Know-Nothing Party sprouted up and began to show hostility mainly towards the German and Irish immigrants. To help control the immigration numbers, individual states began making and passing their own laws. This lead to confusion over immigrant rights and increased debate in the federal courts.

In 1875, the Supreme Court put an end to the confusion by declaring that it was the sole responsibility of the federal government to make and enforce immigration laws. Their reasoning was that it was a nationwide security concern and not an individual state’s.

As the industrial revolution took hold of the United State’s major cities, the United States saw an influx of immigrants. Between 1880-1920, more than 20 million immigrants arrived on the United States shores. A vast majority of these immigrants were from southern, eastern, and central Europe. Four million of these immigrants were Italians and another 2 million were Jewish.

A steady stream of Chinese immigrants had been entering the United States since 1850, looking for better job opportunities and better wages. These immigrants were extremely successful in gold mining and garment factories. United States citizens began to distrust the Chinese immigrants, as the blame was pushed onto them for lowering wages. The Chinese Exclusion Act was passed in 1882 as a way to bar Chinese immigrants from entering the United States.

Creating Guidelines for Immigration

The Immigration Act of 1891 passed to help lower the growing crime rates in the United States. Immigrants who were accused of violent crimes were not allowed into the country. Any sick and diseased immigrants were also kept from entering and were often sent back to their home country on the same ship. In order to help enforce laws and to coordinate immigration procedures, the Federal Office of Immigration was established and immigration inspectors were stationed at major areas of entry.

January of 1892 saw the opening of Ellis Island in New York’s harbor. It was the United State’s first immigration station. The first immigrant to go through Ellis Island and be processed was Annie Moore from County Cork, Ireland.

If you’re amongst the many immigrants who seek US citizenship, contact Hernandez Law Group. We’ll help you add to the rich culture of the United States by helping you through the citizenship application process.