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  Chapter One:

  Size and Growth Rate
  Life Expectancy
  Age Structure
  Population Drift
  Urban, Rural, Suburban
  Foreign Born
  Large Cities



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Two great waves of immigration swelled the American population and changed its composition.
From the founding of the Republic in 1789 until 1880, the great majority of immigrants were from Northern and Western Europe (especially Great Britain, Germany, Ireland, and Scandinavia). Most of the Irish and some of the Germans were Catholic, but the great majority of new Americans were Protestant. In the great wave of immigration that began around 1880, the newcomers came pre-dominantly from Southern and Eastern Europe (especially Poland, Russia, and Italy). They were Catholic, Jewish, or Eastern Orthodox, and concern that they were changing the national character ultimately led to stricter controls on immigration, which prevailed from 1924 to 1965. 

The Immigration Act of 1965, which eliminated ethnic and racial restrictions on immigrants, engendered major change in the U.S. population. “The bill will not flood our cities with immigrants,” said one of its sponsors. “It will not upset the ethnic mix of our society.” But the new law produced very different, largely unanticipated consequences. 

The ensuing surge of immigration was dominated by new arrivals from the Western Hemisphere, especially Mexico and the Caribbean islands, and from Asia, particularly Korea, Vietnam, the Philippines, and China. A substantial number of Muslims immigrated to the United States. For the first time since the end of the illegal slave trade in the 1850s, a sizable contingent of immigrants came from sub-Saharan Africa. In 1998, barely 3 percent of immigrants came from Britain, Germany, Ireland, and Scandinavia. 

The bar representing 1965–1998 on the graph includes about 3 million illegal foreign residents who took advantage of an amnesty offered by Congress to obtain legal residence between 1988 and 1991. It does not include 5 million others who, according to the Immigration and Naturalization Service, entered the country illegally or overstayed temporary visas between 1965 and 1998 and were not legalized. The largest number of them came from Mexico, but many other countries were represented.

Chapter 1 chart 7

Source Notes
Source Abbreviations

HS series C 89–101; SA 1999, tables 5, 6, 8, 9, and 10. For 1998 data, see Immigration and Naturalization Service, Office of Policy and Planning, Statistics Branch, “Legal Immigration, Fiscal Year 1998” (May 1999).


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