Immigration Overview

  • Beginnings of Mass Immigration: The period from 1910-1929 saw a significant influx of immigrants into the USA, primarily from Southern and Eastern Europe.
  • Ellis Island: Many of these immigrants arrived at Ellis Island, the chief immigration station in the USA from 1892 until 1954.

Factors Driving Immigration

  • ‘Push’ Factors: Factors ‘pushing’ people to leave their countries include political instability, religious discrimination, economic hardship, and military conscription.
  • ‘Pull’ Factors: The USA was seen as the ‘land of opportunity’ offering economic prosperity, religious freedom, and escape from political repression.

Experiences of Immigrants

  • Initial Reception: Upon arrival at Ellis Island, immigrants underwent a series of medical and legal inspections. Those who failed these inspections were rejected entry.
  • Living Conditions: Many immigrants lived in overcrowded tenements and found employment in factory work and other low-paying jobs.
  • Prejudice and Discrimination: Immigrants frequently faced discrimination and prejudice based on their nationality, religion, and culture. This was especially harsh following World War I, leading to the Red Scare and subsequent backlash against immigrant communities.

Legislation and Restrictions on Immigration

  • Emergency Quota Act (1921): Introduced to limit immigration based on nationality. The act limited the number of immigrants to 3% of the people from that nationality living in the USA in 1910.
  • National Origins Act (1924): This Act further restricted immigration, lowering the percentage to 2% and changing the base year to 1890, which favored immigrants from Northern and Western Europe who had arrived earlier.
  • Impact of Legislation: Both acts significantly reduced immigration from Southern and Eastern Europe, Asia and Africa, resulting in a shift in the demographic landscape of America. However, restrictions were less for people from the Western Hemisphere, leading to increased immigration from Mexico.

Effect of Immigration on American Society

  • Growth of Cities: The influx of immigrants led to rapid urbanisation, particularly in cities such as New York and Chicago.
  • Cultural Impact: Immigrants also brought their cultures, languages, and traditions, leading to a rich cultural diversity.
  • Economic Impact: The influx of immigrants provided a cheap labour force, bolstering the USA’s burgeoning industrial sector.
  • Nativism: There was also a rise in anti-immigrant sentiment, or ‘nativism’, as some Americans feared that immigrants would take jobs, lower wages, or fail to assimilate. This culminated in the rise of the Ku Klux Klan and other xenophobic organisations.