Throughout its history, the United States has welcomed immigrants who have helped shape the country. From the first settlers who came to the colonies from Spain, France, England, Scotland, Ireland, Germany, and Poland in the late 1700s through the end of World War I, to today’s immigrants from Asia, Latin America, Africa, and other parts of the globe, many have contributed significantly to the nation’s cultural, economic, and political development.
Immigrants are often drawn to the United States because it offers a better life than their home countries. They may move for better education and career opportunities, or to find a more welcoming culture. Some people migrate for religious reasons, such as to avoid persecution. Others do so to escape poverty or violence.
Immigration is a common part of the United States’ economic and social development, though it also is subject to some criticisms. For example, it has a large negative effect on the economies of origin countries by causing a phenomenon called “brain drain,” in which citizens of those countries are relocated to other areas that have greater job availability and higher standards for living.
The share of international migrants has increased slightly in the past couple decades, but it remains below the peaks of 14.8 percent in 1890 and 14.7 percent in 1910. The increase in the share of immigrants has been fueled by a number of factors, including increases in global trade and tourism.
Despite the growing importance of immigration, many Americans remain skeptical about its benefits and costs. For example, a recent Gallup poll found that more than three-quarters of Americans say immigrants should be allowed to enter the country but only a quarter think that allowing them would benefit the country overall.
In some ways, the immigration debate is more partisan than it has been in the past, with recent presidential administrations governing through executive action rather than Congress and fueling heated debate in the halls of state and local governments. During the current administration, President Donald Trump has tried to limit immigration and deter migrants seeking asylum at the U.S.-Mexico border.
The population of immigrants in the United States has risen significantly in recent years, with 44.9 million people living here as of 2019, about 14 percent of the total American population, the highest share since 1910. The nation is relying on migration for a variety of reasons, including to fill gaps in the labor market, reunify families, and support its economy.
However, immigration is a complex issue that can be difficult to address without comprehensive reforms. The United States’ present system was largely constructed in the 1950s and 1960s, and major legislation to reshape it has not occurred since 1996.
The country has faced a surge of immigrants from Central America, particularly from Mexico. The spike has created a strain on the immigration system, with more than 1.8 million cases pending in immigration courts as of June 2022. This has led to concerns that the United States’ immigration laws are unable to effectively address the large influx of people coming from the region.