Waves of Immigration in America


Colonial Era

1492 - 1763

This was the inception of the country prior to its formation as the United Stated of America. At this time ideas about citizenship were being formulated but no legal defitinion was given. There was a struggle between England and others countries to determine what country was going to be the leaders in colonizing the North American continent as part of their empire. England was trying to establish dominance over this colony. The new colonist and their children after them were attempting to gain independence from the Imperial domain of England and establish their own country and citizenship.

Revolutionary ERa


During this time the struggle between England and its colonist have come to a head. The colonist are fighting to gain rights with their mother country and have rights as citizens of their newly formed nation. Struggles over taxation without representation are one of many challenges the colonist faced. They felt they had no citizenship rights from England . Some feel no connection with Great Britain since they are now natural born members of the colonies. At this time slaves have no rights and women have very limited rights. There are no rules for naturalization at this time because the colony is not a country yet.

1st Wave Immigration

1790 - 1820

During this time the Revolutionary War has passed. The laws concerning citizenship for those naturally born and immigrants are being established. This excluded the group of freed slaves who are seen as only a percentage of a person and have no rights. New immigrants are being afforded the opportunity to become citizens and naturalization laws are being formulated. In this original immigration wave the requirement for naturalization states immigrants must be residence for 2 years then 5 years before obtaining citizenship. Eventually, it required a three year notice of intent. At this time the majority of the new immigrants are Europeans.

2nd Immigration Wave

1820 - 1860

The Naturalization Act of 1798 expanded the requirements for residency to 14 years and increased the notice for intent to apply to 5 years. In prior years the requirements and time required to wait were not as great. Perhaps due to the influx of Europeans in the new wave of immigration this law was established. In 1868 the 14th Amendment was passed in order fo protect children born in the United States. With the case of the U.S. vs Wong Kim Ark the law covered everyone born in the U.S. regardless of the parents citizenship. This law excluded children of diplomats and Native Americans.

3rd Wave of Immigration

1880 - 1914

By 1870 the law had changed so blacks could become naturalized citizens.. Asian immigrants were excluded from naturalization but not from living in the country. There were also restrictions on these immigrants at the state level. For example in California Asians were not able to own land. This may have been because of the 123,000 Chinese who immigrated into the country in the 1870's. The Chinese Exclusion Act was passed in 1882 which restricted Chinese people specifically from immigrating to the states. Many Chinese had immigrated due to bad conditions in China and the availability of jobs on the railroads as well as the Gold Rush California was experiencing.

Fourth Wave

1965 - 1979

The laws restricting Chinese immigration was appealed in 1945 but large groups of Chinese did not begin migrating again until 1965. The Immigration and Nationality Act Amendments of 1965 abolished the plan of national origin quotas. New limits on Western Hemisphere immigration were established for the first time. Before this time there was a large increase in Japanese immigration. Most of the new immigrants were males with five year work contracts. This also caused a increase in Japanese women immigration since most of these young men needed wives. Many of these new immigrants entered the country through Hawaii. The Japanese government stop issuing passports to young women traveling to Hawaii in the 1920's. The great Depression was the only event between the third wave and fourth wave that put a stop to immigration for a season.

The 80's

1980 - 1989

The Refugee Act of 1980 was enforced redefining the word refugee. This is in part because of the Cuban exile. Many Cubans were fleeing their country because of political persecution. The last group of Cuban immigrants left because of economic reasons. The target total of refugees was reduced to 50,000 and worldwide immigration was targeted at 270,000 per year. In 1986 the Immigration Reform and Control Act was established setting the first penalties on employees that employ illegal immigrants.. This law also gave amnesty to 3 million illegal immigrants who were already living in the U.S. Over half of the immigrants from this decade were Asian the other half were Hispanic.

The 90's

1990 - 1999

The Immigration Act of 1990 expanded on the 1965 law. The immigration limits were increased to 700,000. The number of visas increased 40%. Reunification of family became the number one criteria for naturalization. This became a priority because stricter laws were passed. These laws caused many children to be left in the country as citizens while their parents were deported. Harsher laws for legal and illegal immigrants were also implemented. The Antiterrorism Act increased the categories that represented criminal activity. Now green card holders could be deported if the government found good cause. Also immigrants could be detained in specific types of deportation cases. As a result of these stricter laws, over 2 million immigrants have been deported since 1996.

The 21st-Century

2000 - 2017

The terrorist attack in 2001 changed Americans' perspectives concerning immigration. The attack exposed weakness in Immigration policies. A majority of the terrorist involved in this event were in the country on expired visas. It also exposed a whole in information sharing among the different agencies of the government. The REAL ID ACT of 2005 changed some of the limitations on visas. Restrictions on asylum applications begin to screen out suspected terrorist and took away restrictions on building border boundaries. The current naturalization laws require immigrants to reside in the country for 5 years before applying for citizenship. The number of illegal immigrants has decreased since 2009 partly because of the legalization of so many immigrants since the 80's.