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Immigration to the U.S.
A Brief History

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Explore the history of immigration to the United States

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Americans have come from every corner of the globe. Take a closer look at the history of U.S. immigration, the different waves of immigration and how these periods influenced the nation’s demographics, politics, culture, and economic growth.



Characterize each of the “four waves” of immigration. When did it occur? Who were the primary migrants, and where did they come from? What factors drove their immigration?

What common characteristics do the different waves of immigration share? What common experiences have different immigrant groups faced?

What caused the three lulls in immigration? How and why did the lulls come to an end?

Think about your own family's immigration story. How does your family history align (or not align) with these large-scale trends in U.S. immigration history? Did they share any of the same experiences? Were they affected by any of the same laws and policies?


The United States has often been characterized as a “nation of immigrants,” and with good reason. As a country that was literally founded by immigrants and their descendants, the United States, perhaps more so than any other country in the world, has been shaped by its immigrants.


Since 1850, immigrants have comprised a notable portion of the total U.S. population—between 5 and 15 percent. Although the actual rate of immigration to the United States has varied drastically over time, immigration itself has remained a consistently significant factor in U.S. history, influencing the nation’s demographics, politics, culture, and economic growth.

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