US immigration began long before the country was founded. While the US was still a British colony, immigrants arrived in the area to eventually found what is today known as the United States. Ever since America was founded, immigration has been an important source of population growth and an important agent of cultural change. Immigrants have helped to construct the country and have established businesses while also introducing new foods, practices, and cultures to the US. While United States immigration has always been important, however, the face of USA immigration – as well as popular belief in this practice – has changed.
Immigration has been steadily increasing. For example, in the decade of 1991-2000, the US admitted eleven million legal immigrants, representing the largest number of any decade historically. While the number of immigrants may be growing, however, the number of immigrants contributing to population growth is slowing. In the 1991-200 decade, for example, immigration accounted for only 0.3% of population growth, compared to the 1900s, when it accounted for about 1%. In 2010, however, about 25% of the residents of America are either the children of immigrants or are immigrants themselves.
With growing immigration, there has also been an increase is concerns about illegal immigration. Indeed, in recent years, illegal immigration has become a hot-button topic. It is not known how many undocumented immigrants are currently in the US, but in 2008, statistics show that 8% of babies born in the US were born to illegal immigrants. Some experts estimate that up to 700,000 illegal immigrants arrive in the US each year. Some states are worried that these immigrants are not screened for criminal behavior or tendencies while others are concerned that undocumented workers use services – such as hospitals – without contributing tax dollars. Several solutions have been suggested for the problem – from wide-ranging amnesty which would make undocumented immigrants legal to increased deportation. However, it is hard for states or even local governments to agree upon a solution.
The face of USA immigration has also changed. Before the 1890s, most immigrants – up to 82% — arrived from Western and Northern European countries, such as Ireland, England, and France. By the 1920s, only 25% of immigrants were arriving from these countries and instead more immigrants were arriving from Central, Eastern, and Southern European Countries. Today, most immigrants to the US come from outside of Europe. In 2006, for example, the top countries contributing to US immigration included Mexico, China, the Philippines, India, Cuba, Colombia, the Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Vietnam, Jamaica, South Korea, and Guatemala. Since the 1920s and especially after the attacks of September 2011, attitudes about immigration have changed and as a result of public pressure legislators have enforced stricter policies regarding United States immigration as more US citizens and residents worry about the negative effects some immigration may have on the US.