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Immigration has played a huge part in the history of America, and the legacy of its citizens. Almost everyone around you can trace their heritage back to a step off of a boat, or across a border, without immigration our country wouldn’t be the same. In this essay I’ll talk about the four main waves of immigration, how the immigrants were received, and the change to America because of them. The United States was, and is still being formed by immigration and learning about our ancestors and how they came here helps us to understand our country and its story. Before the mass immigration that we have in our country now started there were the first european settlers, traveling across the atlantic ocean to colonize the new world. Native americans have lived on this continent for close to 20,000 years, thousands of years later the europeans came and tore their world apart. With them the europeans brought the different kinds of weapons they used to take over the continent. Modern war weapons like guns and black powder, and effectively the most deadly, diseases like smallpox and the plague that wiped out the majority of the native population. By the early 1700s what now makes up the east coast was heavily populated by the English, German, and Scots-Irish settlers with their african slaves. The first big wave of immigration took place from 1790 to 1820, after the colonies were established the amount of new citizens rose by nearly 7 million in those 30 years. The majority of the people coming into the country freely were still northwestern european from Britain and Germany, many coming as indentured servants offering 4 to 7 years of serves in exchange for a one way ticket to the new world. America had an appeal for people living in europe because of its freedom from the rule of oppressive governments and religious rules, you could live and be free with the right to any faith you had, the majority being protestants. People started being pushed out of their homes in European cities by rising population, their solution was to move to America and start a farm. The main entry point into the country at this point was Plymouth Rock, it served as a monument to the founding of The United States and marked the entrance of the first settlers to the new world. In the beginning the fairly small amount of immigrants, around 10,000 per year, easily spread out across the continent and didn’t cause problems for eachother. In 1755 German and Dutch immigrants were criticized for being the “refuse” of their home country and not truly American, and in 1798 the first anti immigrant laws were put into place. The Naturalization Act increased the amount of time as a resident you needed to have to be eligible for citizenship from the previous 5 years, up to 14, and the the Alien Enemies act made it so the government could expel any non citizens they saw as a threat from the country. Both of these laws were dissolved when Thomas Jefferson took power. The first wave started the legacy of immigration in our county and was only the beginning of our long history. The second wave of immigration to the United States lasted from the 1820s to the 1880s and consisted of mainly German and Irish people with some from Africa and China. Much of the appeal of coming to The States was the idea of “the American Dream” and the prospect of finding gold during the gold rush. Most believed that leaving their homes and coming here would guarantee a better life for them and their family, though many people from Ireland were forced to leave because of the potato famine. This was the first period of time that immigrants started to face pushback and discrimination once reaching the United States. Most of the discrimination was from organized groups and political parties like the Know Nothings who started advertising ideologies that claimed superiority of people born in the United States. Some reasons that people had for the discrimination were biases against catholicism and races or ethnicities other than european. For example, the term “Yellow Fever” was used to describe the increase of Chinese people immigrating to the USA. Along with resentment over the growth of cities due to increased population, there was fear of immigrants stealing jobs from americans that had been born in the country. The third wave started around 1880 and lasted up to 1930, the first part of this wave was one of the most active in the history of the country. The inventions of steamboats made access to the ports much easier for hopeful travelers. As a result of the now higher than ever immigrant rates in the New York harbor the government decided to build Ellis Island as a place for the hopeful new american citizens to be tested and processed. Eloise island was considered a place of hope were people would reunite with family that had traveled in advance. It was a bustling port filled with people from all over the world in one building all looking forward to their new life in their new country. In the first parts of this wave around 90% of immigrants were coming from Southern and Eastern Europe instead of solely Northern and Western Europe like it had been previously. All over Europe population was increasing and the availability of land and jobs were getting worse and worse, so many decided to move to america to live in the city and start their lives over with better economic prospects and religious freedom they often didn’t get in their home country. However the lives of immigrants in the United States were not as easy as some expected them to be, often they were left to live in the cheapest and smallest accommodations available and some employers refused to take immigrants on as workers. Immigration was on the rise and Ellis island was bringing thousands through the gates tom their new homes. Although more people had begun coming from places in Europe that were not considered completely “white” the Asian population entering the USA had all but disappeared. The Chinese Exclusion Act made it so anyone with a chinese passport was turned away at Ellis Island and sent back on the next boat back to the port they had come from. The Gentlemen’s Agreement with Japan made it so the citizens of japan were stopped from coming to the US while still in their country, though this act ended up still being mostly enforced on Angel island since the Japanese government didn’t spend much energy enforcing the law. This was just the beginning of the rules and restrictions that were implemented in the later half of the Third Wave. Once World War 1 began suspicions rose over the loyalty of people who had come from other countries. Laws that put restrictions of how many people could come from each country were put into place and organizations like the KKK started popping up, immigrants were discriminated against because of race and claims they weren’t really American, living in ethnic clusters within cities and mostly keeping themselves surrounded by people who had come from their home country separated them even more form the American born citizens. Immigrants started being screened more and more at Ellis Island for signs of anarchy and political views that didn’t line up with the government, so many were being sent back that it became an inconvenience to the shipping companies that had to transport them. The invention of visas made it so possible immigrants were all screened in their countries and many never even got the chance to board the boat they hoped would take them to their better life. Ellis island ended up being almost unnecessary and was just used as a detention center for the people that had slipped through screening in their country. So while the beginning of this wave was one of the most active in our country’s history, the end saw some of the lowest immigration rates since the founding of the United States. The fourth wave started in 1965 and is still continuing to this day. This wave is made up mainly of people from Latin America and Asia, up to 80%, making it one of the most diverse times in American history. Along with being the most diverse, the 4th wave has been the biggest to date, estimated over 30 million immigrants have entered the country since 1965. Similarly to immigration in the past, many people come searching for economic opportunities and a better life for them and their families. A large percentage were forced out of their countries by growth in population or a government they don’t want to live under. There were two major acts that affected immigrants in this wave, in the 1960s President Johnson signed in the Hart-Celler act and ended the quota system, allowing access to the country to many hopeful immigrants that had been previously turned away. Later in 1986 the Immigration Reform and Control Act tried to stem the flow of illegal immigrants entering the United States by allowing amnesty to those already across the borders and cracking down on employers of illegal residents. This act succeeded in granting citizenship to over 2 million previously illegal residents but failed for the most part in its other goals. The majority of immigrants in this wave settled in border or coastal states that they entered through, such as California, Texas, and  New York, because of these immigrants diversity in these states along with some others has vastly increased and other cultures have become integrated into our communities. Immigration has played a huge role in the formation of our country and each wave faced unique challenges and experiences in their journey to the United States. The first wave was full of people coming looking for new land and freedom from the heavily populated cities controlled by the rich that had been their life back in Europe. In the next wave discrimination started to rise for people just coming from across the ocean, asians were considered lesser class and the people who had been born in the country were held as superior. The third wave saw lots of change for the immigration system, at first it was one of the busiest times in immigration history, Ellis island was built and the economy was booming, but the gates started to close when rules and regulations started popping up and the small number of immigrants being let through were treated poorly by everyone else in the community. The fourth wave is still going on to this day, quotas are gone and people are flooding in from all around the world, immigration is at an all time high and I think this is a great thing. Immigration has been, in my opinion one of the biggest forming features of the United States and without it our country wouldn’t have nearly as much of the culture and life that it has today.

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