Immigration has played a huge role in the formation of the United States as we know it today. The arrival of people from other countries around the world continues to be a hot topic that affects the lives of Americans, and opinions differ greatly on the matter. To understand the culture of the U.S., it’s important to look back at history to examine how immigration has shaped the nation.
Christopher Columbus has the distinction of discovering America on behalf of Europe, but when he sailed to the New World in 1492 with the ships Santa Maria, Pinta, and Nina, the land was already occupied. About 15,000 years earlier, the first settlers found this land by crossing the Bering Land Bridge that connects Alaska and Siberia. Over the millennia, these peoples divided into tribes, and their descendants are now known as Native Americans. Since then, the Home of the Brave and the Land of the Free has become a region for many to explore and make into a home.
America was built and populated by immigrants seeking a better life. In 1620, approximately 100 people, most looking for freedom to practice their religion, left England aboard the Mayflower and landed in Massachusetts. These travelers faced difficult times living in a foreign land and starting a new way of life. If it had not have been for the indigenous people, the Pilgrims might not have survived the harsh winter. The way the two peoples came together and celebrated their first harvest is still celebrated during the Thanksgiving holiday.
More people came to the New World looking not only for religious freedom, but also hoping to strike it rich or at least make a decent living for their families in the fur trade business, and, later, gold rushes in various regions of the landmass. England had staked its claim on the land, and the citizens were under the monarchy’s rule, which many fought since they had left Europe to escape such control.
In 1776, the United States of America won its independence from Mother England. The call went out to populate the land, and hopeful travelers, among them the weary, sick, hungry, and persecuted, made their way to the Colonies. It was a time of open borders.
Restrictions came just 14 years later, in 1790, when Congress passed the Naturalization Act, which allowed free white persons of “good character” to apply for citizenship, as long as they had been living in the U.S. for two or more years. Since then, lawmakers have continued to work on regulating immigration for the protection of American citizens.
Possibly the most famous port for arriving immigrants has been Ellis Island, located in the water off New York City. As people arrived on boats, they were greeted by the sight of the Statue of Liberty, which became a symbol of what people hoped to experience during their new life in the United States. In 1892, Annie Moore, a 15-year-old girl from Ireland, was the first person to arrive on Ellis Island as an official immigrant. Although there wasn’t much in the way of celebration on the first day the immigration center opened, Annie was given a coin as a gift for being the first migrant to be registered. Until the facility closed in 1954, more than 12 million people came through Ellis Island.
Today, thousands of migrants continue to travel to America seeking a new life. The Border Patrol agencies have a difficult time trying to accommodate the numbers. People come for different reasons, but all hope to find a better life than the one they left behind. Some ask for refugee status because their lives are at risk in their home countries, while others wish to escape poverty and poor living conditions.
Illegal immigration is a contentious issue in the U.S. and other parts of the world. While Americans wish to welcome migrants, there are laws that need to be followed to make the process successful. These regulations have been constantly amended and updated since the immigration system was first put into place nearly 200 years ago.