Contemporary immigration to the United States is often referred to as ‘post 1965’ immigration because immigration from the Americas and Asia surged after the passage of the 1965 amendments to the Immigration and Nationality Act (the Hart-Cellar Act) which took effect in 1968 which had an humanitarian goal of reunifying families, and an economic goal of bringing in needed labor.
Contemporary immigration to the United States from the 1960s to 1990s period differs from the time where the waves of immigration began from the late 18th thru early 19th centuries in that the first immigration was integrated by 90% European, East European, and Middle East exiled people, meanwhile the second, is complexly composed by 90% of immigrants from Latin American countries who became banned by successive restrictive laws aimed to refugees or people seeking for asylum, and by formerly non-immigrants turned to immigrants from Asian countries.
These two waves are similar in numbers; the scale of contemporary immigration almost matches that during the first quarter of the century between 1901 and 1925.
From a historical point of view, contemporary immigration differs in five different ways:
· To start with, contemporary immigration waves have been increasing steadily from 1971 to 1995 causing a more modest overall impact on the U.S. population than in the past, where the wages occurred spread it out at intervals. Also, such impact is disproportionately localized in areas of high immigration.
· Second, the rate of contemporary emigration is lower than in the past; it estimates than for every 100 immigrants who arrived around 1901, 36 returned to their homelands, meanwhile for every 100 immigrants arrived around 1971, less than 25 returned. This rate indicates that contemporary immigrants are more likely to stay in the U.S. permanently than its counterparts.
· Third, unlike immigration then, today’s immigration is composed by a much larger number of undocumented immigrants. Immigration to the U.S. was open until legal restrictions was imposed to immigrants from Asia in the Nationality Act of 1924 where it was established the national-origins quota system. Thus, the number of undocumented immigrants was not an issue.
Today, various immigration laws are in place to regulate front-door entrants. However, historical patterns of labor reliance on Mexican migration have facilitated undocumented immigration through back-door channels. Undocumented immigration net trends have fluctuated since the 1980s; on the one hand IRCA (Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986) made legal former illegal immigrants and prevented employers from hiring undocumented immigrants through the Mexican borders, but soon employers and employees learnt to circumvent the new restrictions.
During 1994 to 1996, 60% of undocumented immigrants entered across land borders. While Migration networks are settled by family, kinship, and friendship ties, they facilitate the international migration because they lower the costs and risks of movements, and increase the expected returns on such movement. These micro-structural ties of social networks have established legitimate institutions that assist potential migrants by underground organizations. U.S. immigration policy has been instrumental in sustaining and expanding family migration networks, and in establishing employment networks for unskilled-labor migration (as for the Bracero Program aimed at assisting the labor shortage of U.S. agriculture until 1964 where black market network from Mexico became institutionalized) and, to a lesser extent, to skilled-labor migration.
· Fourth, compared to immigration then, today’s inflows are made up of a higher proportion of refugees and those seeking for asylum; the subsequent 50 years after WWII, more than 3million refugees and people seeking for asylum from war-torn countries in Europe were granted lawful permanent-resident status.
Macro-structural factors facilitating human movements beyond the control of U.S. immigration policy is the Global Refugee Movement phenomenon started immediately after WWII. Many refugees were pushed out of their homelands as a result of revolutions, civil wars, or U.S. political, military and economic involvements in originating countries. Contemporary refugees are more numerous from Caribbean, Central America, Southeast Asia and the former Soviet Union. Thus implies a much larger base for later immigration through family reunification that profits from the black market.
· Lastly, the presence of the non-immigrant arrivals to the U.S. temporary for short visits, business, pleasure, traders, investors, students and temporary workers or trainees along with their immediate relatives, each year also bears a pool of potential immigrants both, legal and illegal that may overstay their visas, and wait here to have their status adjusted. About 40% of the undocumented immigrant population was ‘nonimmigrant overstays.’
The new immigrant also differs in their diverse socioeconomic backgrounds there are significant differences in demographic characteristics, levels of education, occupation, and income by national origins. Compared to the first immigrants where the poor, uneducated and unskilled were the ones who travelled overseas. Globalization of the U.S. economy since 1960s has forged ideological ties among the United States and many developing countries in Latin America. Direct U.S. capital investments that have taken advantage of raw material and cheap labor have transformed those countries’ economic and occupational structures. On the other hand, economic development following the American model, combined with easy access to information and migration networks has in turn created pressure for emigration, has stimulated consumerism and consumption and raised expectation regarding living standards.
Spatially, the turn-of–the century immigrants were highly concentrated along the Northeastern seaboard and in the Midwest, and the most preferred urban destinations were New York, Chicago, Philadelphia, St. Louis, and Boston. In contrast, contemporary immigrants are overwhelmingly urban. Today’s newcomers concentrate in New York, Los Angeles, Miami, San Francisco, and Chicago. While the entrance point of the first immigrants were Ellis Island, since 1970s immigration entrance points have been switched to New York, Los Angeles, Miami, and San Francisco.
Differences from the turn-of-the-century European immigration and contemporary immigration in the United States is that the latest, has resulted from the interplay of macro- and micro- structural factors operating cross-nationally, rather than unilaterally. The new immigration has transformed America’s major immigrant cities realigning racial and ethnic relations.
The most significant impact of immigration on U.S. residents has involved notions of an 'American Identity' and 'American ways'. The arrival of large non-White immigrants has significantly changed the racial composition of the urban population, rendering the Black-White paradigm outdated. Many U.S. born Blacks are confronted with being a U.S. minority competing with foreign-born minorities whose members have come from different backgrounds, many with a majority mentality, and heading to different directions. For the new immigrants, the paths to integration may be segmented because of their diverse socioeconomic backgrounds. It seems clear, however, that assimilation no longer means that everybody eventually succeeds.
- Zhou, Min. Contemporary Immigration and the Dynamics of Race and Ethnicity. America Becoming: Racial Trends and Their Consequences Vol 1. National Research council. 2001.
- Miyares, Ines M. Central Americans: Legal Status and Settledness. Contemporary Ethnic Geographies in America. Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc. USA 2007. Print.
- Price, Marie. Contemporary Ethnic Andean South Americans and Cultural Networks. Geographies in America. Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc. USA 2007. Print.
- Tyner, James. Filipinos: The Invisible Ethnic Community. Geographies in America. Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc. USA 2007. Print.
- Skop, Emily. Asian Indians and the Construction of Community and Identity. Geographies in America. Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc. USA 2007. Print.
- Boswell, Thomas and Jones, Terry-Ann. Caribbean Hispanics: Puerto Ricans, Cubans, and Dominicans. Geographies in America. Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc. USA 2007. Print.
- Arreola, Daniel. Settlement Geographies of Mexican Americans. Geographies in America. Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc. USA 2007. Print.