How A 50-Year-Old Immigration Law Helped Change the Face of America [Interactive Map]

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An immigration bill passed by Congress fifty years ago this week led to  dramatic changes in America's racial and ethnic composition.

In 1965, fewer than 5 percent of Americans were  foreign-born, the vast majority white from European countries. Today, 14 percent of the U.S. population is foreign-born (45 million). Of those, nearly half are from Latin America and more than a quarter from Asia, according to a recent Pew Research analysis. By 2065, Pew predicts, the foreign-born population will grow to nearly 18 percent -- about 78 million people -- with Asians surpassing Hispanics as the largest immigrant group.

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This trajectory is rooted in the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965. Signed by President Lyndon Johnson on October 3, it eliminated the race-based quota system that had dictated U.S. immigration policy since the 1920s. The new law prioritized  immigrants' skills and family reunification and almost doubled the number of annual visas allotted, opening the doors to a new tide of immigrants from Latin America and Asia. Since then, nearly 59 million immigrants have come to live in the U.S. Along with their children, they make up more than half of America's  population growth in the last 50 years, literally reshaping the face of the nation.

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Explore this interactive timeline of U.S. immigration laws and they're impact on the relative size of the foreign-born population.


More than 40 million current U.S. residents — legal and undocumented — were born elsewhere. That makes America the top destination in the world for immigrants.

Not surprisingly, more U.S. immigrants come from Mexico than anywhere else: roughly 11.7 million people — or 29 percent of all U.S. immigrants. That’s about five times the number of immigrants from China, the second-largest group.

Mexicans now make up the largest foreign-born population in 33 states. But, as Jens Manuel Kroogstad at Pew Research notes, it wasn’t always this way. A century ago, another huge wave of immigrants flooded into the United States: between 1890 and 1919, more than 18 million newcomers, mostly from Europe, settled here.

In his analysis of U.S. Census data from 1910, Kroogstad found that 18 percent of all U.S. immigrants — about 2.5 million people — came from Germany, far more than any other country. Germans made up the largest immigrant group in 17 states and the the District of Columbia. Immigrants from Russia and other former Soviet countries were the second largest group (11 percent, or 1.6 million). Mexicans, by contrast, were the majority immigrant population in only three states: Arizona, New Mexico and Texas.