The history of large-scale immigration to America began with the Puritan settlement in what were to become the thirteen original Colonies. After the Revolution, there was a pronounced lull in immigration for nearly seventy years until the Irish started arriving in the 1840s in flight from the potato famine.
Over the next forty years, immigration alternately surged and plunged. As the nineteenth century progressed, the main source of American immigrants shifted from northern Europe to southern and eastern Europe. Transportation became cheaper as railroads penetrated every corner of Europe and steamships grew in size, thereby making the passage to America more available to the poor. Specific events, like the 1881 pogrom in Russia or regional harvest failures, were responsible for triggering temporary waves of increased immigration. In 1875 the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the regulation of immigration was a federal responsibility, and in 1891 the Immigration Service was established to deal with it.
The outbreak of World War I all but stopped the flow of Europeans into America, but mass immigration resumed upon the war’s conclusion. Jews, Italians and a new generation of Irish walked through “the Golden Door” of Ellis Island. Just as the American narrative of “a nation of immigrants” was being established, however, a concern developed among the native born that they would be swamped by the new arrivals. In 1921 Congress passed a new immigration policy commonly known as the national-origins Quota Act, which was revised three years later in the Immigration Act of 1924. In 1929 the yearly maximum, or quota, was fixed at 150,000 -- a total that still left the United States far and away the world’s largest recipient of immigrants.
The legislation of the early 1920s also addressed the issue of ethnic balance in immigration. The 1921 Act allocated, by country of origin, annual quotas equal to 3 percent of that nation’s existing ethnic stock in the U.S. as of 1910. In 1924, this was amended to 2 percent of a nation’s existing ethnic stock in the U.S. as of 1890, in order to avoid over-rewarding groups that had already benefited immensely from the great immigration wave between 1890 and 1910.
These quotas dramatically increased the number of immigrants from northwestern Europe and decreased those from southeastern Europe. (The Russian Revolution had just occurred, and American authorities feared the arrival of this contagion on native grounds.)
Immigration regulations remained stable for the next four decades until everything was radically transformed by the 1965 Immigration Act, which set the ceiling for immigrants from the Western hemisphere at 120,000 per year while earmarking fully 170,000 slots for immigrants from nations outside the Western Hemisphere. For the first time in American history, non-Europeans formed the dominant immigrant group, the new arrivals hailing predominantly from Asia, Latin America, the Caribbean, and the Middle East. Between 1968 and 1993, fully 85 percent of the 16.7 million legal immigrants arriving in the United States during that period came from the Third World – including 47 percent from Latin America and the Caribbean, and 34 percent from Asia.
In the 1980s and 1990s, immigration policies were further altered when the U.S. government granted amnesty (in 1986) to illegal aliens, primarily Mexicans who had begun crossing the border in growing numbers in search of work.
Legal immigration in the 1990s exceeded that of the previous historical peak decade of 1901-1910, when 8.8 million legal immigrants came to America. Today the United States admits between 700,000 and 900,000 legal immigrants each year.
Despite what was seen as a one-time amnesty (in 1986), illegal immigration has grown into a profound social problem that has become a significant battle in the culture war. Estimates of the number of illegal aliens currently residing in the United States range from 12 million to 20 million.
Recent decades have seen the rise of a highly vocal "Open Borders Lobby" dedicated to weakening -- and in many cases eliminating -- all regulations and controls on immigration into the United States. Blurring the distinction between citizens and non-citizens, this Lobby depicts any calls for the strict enforcement of immigration laws as manifestations of racism, ethnocentrism, and xenophobia. It seeks to radically change American values and culture through mass immigration from the Third World and the political mobilization of "alienated" immigrant groups. Though the constituents of the Open Borders Lobby identify a concern for "human rights" as their guiding principle, the rights they demand are not the restrictions on government enshrined in the American Bill of Rights, but rather, claims on society for "equity," "welfare," and special treatment for designated immigrant groups. If enacted, these "rights" would amount to a revolution in America's existing social order. It is noteworthy that the groups leading the attack on America's borders are also in the vanguard of a coordinated attack against America's national security and defense structures, and of a campaign to provide legal aid to terrorists and other declared enemies of America.
The "open borders" movement originally emerged from the radicalism of the 1960s and matured in the fight over amnesty for illegal aliens in the 1980s. It gained a certain mainstream status in the 1990s as the "globalization" and "multilateralism" fads of the decade encouraged talk of a "world without borders" and the decline (even the demise) of the nation-state. At the center of the movement was the Ford Foundation—the largest tax-exempt foundation in the world, and one increasingly guided by the political left. Ford bankrolled the creation of new groups like the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund and the National Council of La Raza. Ford also expanded the role of established leftwing groups like the ACLU, and it promoted radical Marxist organizations—overtly hostile to American values and purposes—like the National Lawyers Guild.