With almost 60 million immigrants’ arrival to the United States in the last 50 years, a figure that pushes the country’s foreign-born share of population to a near-record 14 percent, contemporary immigrants account for just over half the nation’s population growth, and they have reshaped its racial and ethnic composition. On this, Pew Research analyzed U.S. Census Bureau data and the research firm’s own population projections to quantify the impact of immigration as well as U.S. public attitudes toward immigration.
In its population projection through 2065, Pew explores immigration through a 100-year lens. The starting point was the “passage of the landmark law that rewrote U.S. immigration policy,” according to Pew’s release on the study. The “landmark law” is reference to the 1965 Immigration and Nationality Act wherein the standing national quota system of the time, which favored European immigrants, was replaced with an emphasis on family reunification and skilled workers.
Immigrants to the United States over the last 50 years, in absolute numbers, exceed the great waves of European immigrants that dominated during the 19th and early 20th centuries. From 1840 to 1889, for example, 14.3 million immigrants came to the United States. Between 1890 and 1919, an additional 18.2 million immigrants arrived to the country. The majority of these 32.5 million foreign-born arrivals left Western and Southern European countries.
Since the 1965 Immigration and Nationality Act, immigrant numbers from other parts of the world began to grow. Just over half of the immigrants who’ve arrived over the last 50 years come from Latin American countries. One-quarter of the immigrants are Asian.
According to Pew, the immigration impact is met with “mixed views” by the American public. Pew reports 45 percent of Americans say immigrants make U.S. society better in the long run, while 37 percent say they are making society worse. Sixteen percent say immigration doesn’t have much effect of society.
The survey also reports that half of Americans want to see immigration reduced, and 82 percent of respondents say the U.S. immigration needs either a major overhaul, or it needs to be completely rebuilt.
Referring to the passage of the immigration law passed during the Johnson Administration, Pew reports, “relatively few anticipated the size or demographic impact of the post-1965 immigration flow.”