US Immigration and Naturalization

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Immigration and Naturalization Records and Research

The United States is a nation of immigrant families. Records that document the immigration and naturalization of our ancestors include crew and passenger lists, immigration and border crossing records, passports, and citizenship and naturalization documents. Many of these documents are not yet indexed, making them difficult to find.

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Interesting Immigration Facts

  • 1875The nation passed its first immigration law.
  • 1900sOne in seven travelers dies in transatlantic voyages.
  • 19071,285,349 Europeans entered the country.
  • 1930sMore people emigrated out of the country than into it.
  • 1990sWomen accounted for just over half of all legal immigrants.
  • 1986Since 1986 Congress has passed seven amnesties for illegal immigrants.

Persons Obtaining Legal Permanent Resident Status Fiscal Years

U.S. Persons Obtaining Legal Permanent Resident Status Chart from 1950 to 2010
Source: US Department of Homeland Security, Persons Obtaining Legal Permanent Resident Status: Fiscal Years 1820 to 2010

Interesting Immigration Historical Events

Immigrants arriving at Ellis Island in circa: 1902.

Four Periods of US Immigration

American immigration history can be viewed in four separate periods. They include the colonial period, the mid-nineteenth century, the turn of the twentieth century, and post-1965.

Each period brought distinct national groups, races and ethnicities to the United States. During the seventeenth century, approximately 175,000 Englishmen migrated to Colonial America. Over half of all European immigrants to Colonial America during the 17th and 18th centuries arrived as indentured servants. The mid-nineteenth century saw mainly an influx from northern Europe; the early twentieth-century mainly from Southern and Eastern Europe; post-1965 mostly from Latin America and Asia.

The ethnic mix of races and cultures that make up the American image.

America is the World’s Great Melting Pot

In 2006 the United States accepted more legal immigrants as permanent residents than all other countries in the world combined. After ethnic quotas on immigration were removed in 1965 the number of actual (first-generation) immigrants living in the United States eventually quadrupled, from 9.6 million in 1970 to about 38 million in 2007. Over one million persons were naturalized as U.S. citizens in 2008. The leading countries of origin of immigrants to the United States were Mexico, India, the Philippines, and China.

Anti-Italian feelings erupted in New Orleans in 1891.

1907 was a Peak Year for European Immigration

The peak year of European immigration was in 1907, when 1,285,349 persons entered the country. By 1910, 13.5 million immigrants were living in the United States. In 1921, the Congress passed the Emergency Quota Act, followed by the Immigration Act of 1924. The 1924 Act was aimed at further restricting the Southern and Eastern Europeans, especially Jews, Italians, and Slavs, who had begun to enter the country in large numbers beginning in the 1890s.

In the first decade of the new millennium, Asia was one of the biggest sources of immigration to America.

Asian Immigration in the 20th Century

The top twelve emigrant countries in 2006 were Mexico (173,753), People's Republic of China (87,345), Philippines (74,607), India (61,369), Cuba (45,614), Colombia (43,151), Dominican Republic (38,069), El Salvador (31,783), Vietnam (30,695), Jamaica (24,976), South Korea (24,386), and Guatemala (24,146). Other countries comprise an additional 606,370 emigrants. In fiscal year 2006, 202 refugees from Iraq were allowed to resettle in the United States.

In 1900, when the U.S. population was 76 million, there were an estimated 500,000 Hispanics. The Census Bureau projects that by 2050, one-quarter of the population of the United States will be of Hispanic descent. This demographic shift is largely fueled by immigration from Latin America.

Mexican immigrants marching for greater rights.

Hispanics Make up the Fastest Growing Immigrant Population

The Census Bureau estimates the US population will grow from 281 million in 2000 to 397 million in 2050 with immigration, but only to 328 million with no immigration. A new report from the Pew Research Center projects that by 2050, non-Hispanic whites will account for 47% of the population, down from the 2005 figure of 67%. Non-Hispanic whites made up 85% of the population in 1960. It also foresees the Hispanic population rising from 14% in 2005 to 29% by 2050. The Asian population is expected to more than triple by 2050. Overall, the population of the United States is due to rise from 296 million in 2005 to 438 million in 2050, with 82% of the increase from immigrants.

In 35 of the country's 50 largest cities, non-Hispanic whites were at the last census or are predicted to be in the minority. In California, non-Hispanic whites slipped from 80% of the state's population in 1970 to 42.3% in 2008.

Anti-Italian feelings erupted in New Orleans in 1891.

Social Intolerance of Some Cultures

Benjamin Franklin opposed German immigration, stating that they would not assimilate into the culture. Irish immigration was opposed in the 1850s by the political pro-American Know Nothing movement, originating in New York in 1843. They provoked public fears that the country was being overwhelmed by Irish Catholic immigrants.

In 1891, a lynch mob stormed a local jail and hanged several Italians following the acquittal of several Sicilian immigrants alleged to be involved in the murder of New Orleans police chief David Hennessy. The Congress passed the Emergency Quota Act in 1921, followed by the Immigration Act of 1924, which was aimed at limiting immigration overall, and making sure that the nationalities of new arrivals matched the overall national profile.

FamilySearch Immigration and Naturalization Wiki Articles

Learn about useful terms, conditions, laws and limitations that faced immigrants as they came into the United States and eventually make preparations to become naturalized American citizens. This information is found in the FamilySearch research wiki. While you are using the wiki, feel free to update an article to include previously missing information or to contribute an article of your own to help other researchers.

Research Courses

FamilySearch has several courses for those who want to learn how to effectively use immigration and naturalization records in their research. Discover detailed articles and online courses to help you with your Immigration and Naturalization research.