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U.S. Immigration - Lessons 4 & 5

Author: Mark Hugo Lopez, Director of Global Migration and Demography Research, Pew Research Center

Lopez, Mark Hugo. “Lesson 4 📚 : Immigration's Impact.” Mini-Course, Pew Research Canter, 31 July 2019, Lopez, Mark Hugo. “Lesson 5 📚 : U.S. Views of Immigration.” Mini-Course, Pew Research Center, 31 July 2019,


What is immigration’s impact on the U.S. population?

Immigration has played a strong role in determining the size and contours of the U.S. population throughout the nation’s history. Since the 1960s, immigration has accounted for just over half the country’s population growth and has reshaped its makeup. Future immigration will continue to have an impact on the American landscape.

The country’s first waves of immigrants were from Europe.

The United States had attracted a steady flow of immigrants since its founding, but a larger wave began in the mid-1800s, bringing more than 14 million immigrants, mainly from Germany, Ireland and other nations in Northern and Western Europe. A second surge of immigration took place in the late 1800s and early 1900s, with the large majority of its 18 million arrivals coming from Russia, Italy and the rest of Eastern and Southern Europe. As a result, the share of immigrants in the U.S. population peaked at nearly 15% in the early 1900s.

Immigration plunged after restrictive quotas were imposed in the 1920s.

In response to changing immigration patterns in the late 1800s, there was a growing political movement to restrict certain types of immigrants. The U.S. enacted a series of restrictive immigration laws – including laws banning immigration from most Asian countries. In the 1920s, new laws put a cap on total immigration and imposed numerical quotas that favored Northern and Western European countries. In the decades that followed, the immigrant percentage of the total population fell by two-thirds, and declined to a low point of 4.8% of the population in 1970.

Immigration is the main cause of U.S. population growth since 1965.

Immigrant numbers began rising again after passage of a sweeping 1965 law that rewrote U.S. immigration policy. The law replaced country quotas with a system that prioritized visas for family members of immigrants already in the U.S. and for skilled workers. More than 59 million new immigrants have come to the U.S. since then, pushing the country’s foreign-born share to a near-record 14%. Since 1965, more than half of total U.S. population growth has been due to new immigrants, their children and grandchildren. If current trends continue, immigration will be an even bigger factor in the future, responsible for nearly 90% of population growth, according to Pew Research Center projections to 2065.

Immigrants and their children are a growing share of the population.

Today, immigrants and their U.S.-born children are about a quarter of the total population. In 2065, they are projected to make up more than a third. These projections come with an important caveat: They assume that recent immigration, birth and death trends continue into the future. Changes to those trends could alter the numbers.

Immigration is reshaping the nation’s racial and ethnic makeup.

Immigration has helped grow the Hispanic share of the total U.S. population to 18%.

Before 1965, the majority of U.S. immigrants were born in Europe. Among immigrants since then, three-quarters were born in Asia and Latin America. Because of immigration and births to immigrants, the U.S. Hispanic and Asian populations are growing faster than the nation’s white and black populations. Since 1980, the share of Americans who are white has declined (to 61% in 2016) and the share who are black (12%) has stayed the same, while the shares who are Hispanic (18%) and Asian (5%) more than doubled. The changes brought by immigration will mean that within a few decades, no U.S. racial or ethnic group will be in the majority. Whites will still be the largest segment of the total. Latinos will remain the second-largest group. Asians could equal or surpass blacks, the third-largest group, by 2065.

The makeup of immigrants also is projected to change.

There are now about twice as many immigrants from Latin America as from Asia. But that is changing, because Hispanic immigration has slowed in recent years, while Asian immigration has not. Within a few decades, Pew Research Center projects that there will be more Asian immigrants than Hispanic immigrants in the U.S.

Immigration will increase the number of working-age Americans.

Immigration has kept the U.S. slightly younger than it would have been, because immigrants have more children than people born in the U.S. In the future, if the potential labor force grows, it will be because of immigration. The working-age population (173 million in 2015) is projected to grow to 183 million by 2035, assuming future immigrants and their children continue to arrive. Without future immigration, the number of Americans of prime working-age – 25 to 64 – would decline to 166 million, according to Pew Research Center projections.


What do Americans think about immigrants?

So far, we’ve been talking about who immigrants are and how they came to the United States. Now we’ll turn to what Americans think about immigrants and immigration policy, and how their views have changed over time. One major change in recent decades: Americans’ views about immigrants have become more positive overall, but Democrats increasingly have more favorable views than Republicans. White Americans and older Americans, who are more likely to vote Republican, tilt positive but by smaller margins than Americans of other races and those who are younger.

Growing share say immigrants strengthen the U.S.

Democrats have grown more likely to say immigrants strengthen the U.S., while Republicans

For more than two decades, Pew Research Center has asked Americans whether they think immigrants have a positive or negative impact on the country. In 2017, 65% of the public said immigrants strengthen the country with their hard work and talents, compared with 26% who said they burden the country by taking jobs, housing and health care. That was a more positive assessment than at any point in the past two decades. In 1994, far more Americans thought immigrants had a negative impact than a positive one, but opinion has slowly shifted in the opposite direction. Since 2012, more Americans have had a positive view of immigrants than a negative view. This shift has largely been driven by more positive views among Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents, who are now twice as likely as Republicans and Republican leaners to say immigrants strengthen the U.S.

Many incorrectly believe the majority of U.S. immigrants are unauthorized.

Fewer than half of Americans surveyed in 2018 know that most immigrants in the U.S. are here legally. A similar share incorrectly say unauthorized immigrants were either the majority of immigrants or that half of immigrants were in the U.S. legally and half illegally. A smaller share say they don’t know. Legal immigrants have been the majority of all U.S. immigrants in Pew Research Center estimates going back to 1990. In 2015, unauthorized immigrants were a quarter of all immigrants.

Most who interact with immigrants who speak little or no English are not bothered by this.

About three-quarters of Americans say they often or sometimes come in contact with immigrants who speak little or no English, about the same as in 2006. Among those who do, 26% say this bothers them, less than the 38% who said so in 2006. On the broader topic of assimilation, most people say that today’s immigrants are either about as willing to adapt or more willing to adapt to the American way of life compared with immigrants who came to this country in the early 1900s. Fewer (36%) say they are less willing.

Americans are divided about what to do about legal immigration.

Public support for increasing legal immigration has nearly doubled since 2006.

When asked about whether the level of legal l immigration into the U.S. should change, 38% of Americans in 2018 said legal immigration should be kept at its present level, while 32% said it should be increased and 24% said it should be decreased. Public support for expanding legal immigration has grown since 2001, while support for decreasing it has fallen. There is a substantial divide in these views by party. Democrats and independents who lean Democratic are more likely to support an increase than a decrease, and their support for expansion is up dramatically. Republicans and Republican leaners are more likely to support a decrease than an increase, but support for expansion has edged up over time.

Most agree on what to do about immigrants in the country illegally.

About three-quarters of Americans said in 2015 that undocumented immigrants should be allowed to stay in the country legally if certain requirements are met, little changed from previous years. Asked whether those immigrants should be allowed to apply for citizenship, or for permanent residency but not citizenship, almost twice as many Americans favored a path to citizenship. Majorities of the public also say that unauthorized immigrants mostly fill jobs that American citizens do not want and that unauthorized immigrants are no more likely than American citizens to commit serious crimes.

Republicans and Democrats disagree on whether the U.S. has a responsibility to accept refugees.

74% of Democrats say the U.S. should accept refugees, but most Republicans disagree.

There has been public debate in the past about whether the U.S. should admit refugees, and today there is a substantial gap by party on this issue. In a 2018 survey, 51% said the U.S. has a responsibility to accept refugees, and 43% said it does not. While most Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents say the U.S. has a responsibility to accept refugees, most Republicans and Republican leaners say the nation does not have a responsibility.

DMU Timestamp: August 05, 2019 17:47

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