To emigrate is to leave one’s native land. To immigrate is to settle somewhere else. America, it is said, is a land of immigrants. We take those who have no place elsewhere and make them our own, use them to build our society. Who are these people who come to us?
The answer has, of course, changed over the centuries. Most know that many of the first immigrants to what would become the United States were English. The French, Germans, Dutch, Swedes, and other northern and western Europeans came soon after. Some came as conquerors, others as little more than refugees. Soon afterwards, they began to capture Africans of all kinds and force them here. Later the Scots and the Irish, then the Italians and Polish came, mostly of their own free will. Up until the start of the twentieth century, with the exception of some Japanese and a great many Chinese, most of the immigrants to the US were European in origin.
The last century has seen America’s allure cast a wider net. In 2009, according to the Department of Immigration, 743,715 people were naturalized, becoming legal citizens of the United States. 37% had originally come from Asia, 34% from North or Central America, 12% from Europe, and 8% from South America. (The balance came from Oceania or somewhere unknown) When the data is broken down further, I’m sure it will surprise no one that Mexico is the greatest contributor of immigrants, with 15%. Vietnam, Britain, Ukraine, Taiwan, Brazil, Canada, China, Colombia, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Ethiopia, Guatemala, Haiti, India, Iran, Jamaica, the Koreas, Nicaragua, Nigeria, Pakistan, Peru, Philippines, Poland, and Russia are also all significant, being the country of origin of at least 1% of those naturalized last year.
Certainly, naturalization is an unreliable method of gauging immigration. Many people come for a time to work or for personal reasons and then return to their homeland. Other live out their lives in America but never complete the requirements of citizenship. And it is commonly cited that there are 12 million illegal immigrants currently in the United States, although this may have decreased somewhat in the wake of the recession. However, my point was not to be exact. These figures were easy to find, and those who are interested could find much more information. Rather, I wanted to show the breadth of the pool from which immigrants are drawn. People come from all over the world, not just Mexico or Central America, India or the Middle East to live in America. They are old and young, though many if not most are of working age, with families. They are of every color and creed. And they want to live here. Next time, I’ll look at why.