U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Laws and Issues: A Documentary History

By Michael Lemay; Elliott Robert Barkan | Go to book overview

Part II
Limited Naturalization, Unlimited Immigration-- 1880 to 1920

Although immigrants from South, Central and Eastern European nations had arrived in the United States as early as colonial times, their numbers and influence were comparatively small until after 1880. Indeed, 1896 represents the turning point year when their numbers exceeded those from northwestern Europe for the first time. These newcomers were often quite different in their culture and physical features from previous Europeans and, of course, from the majority society. In addition, they arrived in sufficient numbers to preserve much of their cultural and social identities by living in ethnic enclaves in the burgeoning cities of the United States. These factors sparked prejudice and discrimination against them. In addition to the millions of Catholics arriving, many of the newcomers were Greek or Russian Orthodox, or Jews: the Jewish population rose from around 270,000 in 1877 to over 4 million by 1927 ( Dinnerstein and Reimers 1975, 37-38).

As was true in the earlier era, several push and pull factors were at work in this vast migration, during which some 27 million immigrants left Europe to come to the United States. Among the push factors were the growing urbanization and industrialization sweeping across Europe that brought about severe political, social, and economic dislocations. Often these newcomers were fleeing sometimes extreme conditions in their homelands that were aggravated by high birthrates, overpopulation, and cholera and malaria epidemics. These developments resulted in political unrest and often repression. In coping with such pressures, European governments found emigration an expedient pol

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