This Fascinating GIF Shows America's Foreign-Born Population Since 1850

Reddit user CushtyJVftw created this fascinating GIF of the U.S. foreign-born population in each states since 1850.

The map is a great example of taking bland statistics and making them dance.

(CushtyJVftw based his work on data from a Wikipedia page about the history of immigration in the U.S. which referenced Census data from foreign-born citizens as well as a study on that population.)

From 1841 to 1866, hundreds of thousands of people flocked to America’s West to claim new ground.

Some came from across the Pacific: By 1852, there were 25,000 Chinese Americans and by 1880, the more than 300,000 Chinese immigrants made up a tenth of California’s population.

Then came the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, which represented the first major limitation on immigration in the U.S. as it effectively halted Chinese immigration and prohibited Chinese immigrants from becoming citizens.

Subsequently, a steady decline started in the percentage of foreign-born residents and continued until the 1980s.

What’s clear from the GIF is that the South has never had a significant foreign-born population, which is interesting if you consider something like the religious makeup of America.

Note: States are grey until data is available.

Two more pieces of legislation likely caused the downward trend between 1980 and the 1980s: The Immigration Acts of 1924 and 1965.

The 1924 Immigration Act further established quotas based on national origin. Under the act, only wives, unmarried children under age 18, residents of the Western hemisphere, religious or academic professionals, and “bona-fide students” under age 15 could enter the U.S. without contributing to the “quota” for that particular nationality.

Furthermore, the government gave preferential treatment to “quota” immigrants with family members in the U.S. or skills in agriculture. With a minimum of 100, the allowable quotas relied on a percentage of that nationality already present in the U.S.

And the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965, also known as the Hart-Cellar Act, abolished all immigration quotes based on national origin. The new system focused focused on immigrants’ skills and family relationships with citizens or residents of the U.S. The government, however, still limited visas to 170,000 per year, not including immediate relatives of U.S. citizens or “special immigrants” (those born in “independent” nations in the Western hemisphere, former citizens, ministers, and U.S. government employees abroad).

Today, immigration remains an important yet polarising topic for the U.S. Recent laws feel more inclusion ary, like the one passed last year, bolstering high-skilled immigration as well as providing a 13-year path to citizenship for undocumented persons. But questions remain for future remain, especially on the conservative side of the country.

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