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Robin Wilson

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Robin Wilson

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Roger White

We review U.S. immigration history during the 1875–1920 period, when federal legislation imposed explicit qualitative restrictions on immigration. The Page Act of 1875 prohibited the entry of forced laborers, Asian women who might engage in prostitution, and convicted criminals. The Chinese Exclusion Act (1882) halted Chinese immigration to the U.S. for ten years and prohibited Chinese residents of the U.S. from becoming citizens. In 1892, the Geary Act extended the ban for an additional decade, and required all Chinese living in the U.S. to carry permits. As expiration of the Geary Act neared, the Scott Act was passed, further extending the ban. Two years later, the ban on Chinese immigration to the U.S. was made permanent. Additional legislation also limited immigration, with arrivals from Northern and Western Europe continuing to receive preferential treatment. Even so, during this period, we see large numbers of immigrants arrive from Southern and Eastern Europe.

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Roger White

We review U.S. immigration history during the period from 1968 through 2015. The Hart-Celler Act (1968) abolished the National Origins Quota System and changed the bases for immigrant entry to promote family reunification, fill labor market vacancies, and accommodate refugees and asylum-seekers. This led to a pronounced increase in the number of arrivals, to 765,258 immigrants in a typical year during the period. It also resulted in a shift in the primary source countries/regions of immigrant arrivals. Asia’s share of the immigrant inflow increased from 4.9 percent during the 1921–1967 period to 31.2 percent. The share of the total inflow that arrived from Latin America and the Caribbean more than doubled, from 21.9 percent to 44.4 percent. Immigrants from Africa have accounted for 5 percent of the total inflow since 1968. We have witnessed a corresponding decrease in the immigrant share value for Europe, from 53.8 percent to 11.9 percent.

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Roger White

We review U.S. immigration history during the period from 1921 through 1967. The Emergency Quota Act (1921) and the Johnson-Reed Act (1924) established and revised the National Origins Quota System, augmenting existing qualitative restrictions on immigration with quantitative restrictions. This greatly reduced immigrant inflows, including arrivals from Southern and Eastern Europe, while affording a large percentage of the quota allocation to Northern and Western Europe. The McCarran-Walter Act (1952) eliminated race as a barrier to immigration and citizenship, allowed immediate relatives of citizens to enter without numerical restriction, and revised the National Origins Formula. Even so, quota limits and the bias favoring immigration from Northern and Western Europe remained in place. During this period, the annual average inflow of 203,395 immigrants was markedly smaller than the average inflow of 537,945 witnessed during the 1885-1920 period, and much closer to the average annual inflow of 161,390 observed between 1820 and 1884.

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Roger White

We consider population projections for the period from 2015 through 2065, including expected demographics of the U.S. foreign-born population. Based on the projections, by mid-century, immigrants from Asia will eclipse Hispanic immigrants to account for a plurality of arrivals, and Asians and Hispanics will collectively account for 37 percent of the U.S. population. Accordingly, the U.S. population will become increasingly diverse. As with the Columbian Exchange, current and future immigrants are expected to imprint the cultures of their respective source countries on American culture. To a degree, immigrants will certainly assimilate into American culture; however, there will also be an acculturation process that is expected to continue the shift of American culture away from the cultures of European nations and towards the cultures of source countries in Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean, South America, and Africa.

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A legacy of discrimination

Becoming America

Roger White

We introduce our topic and provide an overview of the book. We posit a clear bias in U.S. immigration policy that favored entry from Europe and, notably, from Northern and Western European countries until the enactment of the Hart-Celler Act in 1968 (i.e., the Immigration Act of 1965). Only in recent decades have there been a significant increase in the number of annual immigrant arrivals and a considerable shift in the source countries and regions of immigrant arrivals to the U.S. towards Asia, Latin American and the Caribbean, and, to a lesser extent, Africa. We contend that many recent immigrant arrivals to the U.S. have entered a country that is quite culturally dissimilar from their countries of origin. However, through acculturation there has been a movement of U.S. culture away from that of the more traditional European immigrant source countries and towards the cultures of the more recent arrivals’ home countries.

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Roger White

We consider whether, in 1968, when the Hart-Celler Act was implemented, American culture was more similar to the cultures of traditional immigrant source countries than to the cultures of non-traditional source countries. We also address whether American culture became less similar to the cultures of traditional source countries and more similar to the cultures of non-traditional source countries following changes in the primary immigrant source countries since 1968. The Hofstede, Project GLOBE, and Inglehart measures of cultural distance are used. We find that in the late-1960s American culture was significantly more similar to the culture of the typical traditional source country and less similar to that of the typical non-traditional source country. We also find evidence that more recent immigrant arrivals from non-traditional source countries led American culture to become less similar to the cultures of traditional source countries and more similar to that of the typical non-traditional source country.

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Roger White

We introduce the gravity model of international migration as the general framework for our econometric analysis, and we discuss our data sources and the construction of related variables. Having presented the empirical models and data, we examine data that span the period from 1820 through 2015 to identify the determinants of annual immigrant inflows to the U.S. and of annual inflow share values. Our models are estimated both with and without time (i.e., year) and source country fixed effects terms, and alternative functional forms and modified empirical specifications are estimated to test the robustness of our primary results.

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Roger White

We close by summarizing the work that has been presented thus far, and by offering a discussion of potential related opportunities for public policy. We begin by revisiting the relationships and the corresponding questions that form the basis for this project. We then provide an accounting of the work—what we have done, how it has been done, and what we have learned. This summary provides a comprehensive discussion of what our findings suggest can be said about the past, the present and, to a lesser degree, the future. Having these details in place also allows for discussion of the associated policy implications. It is argued that maintaining or increasing/expanding the current level/source country composition of immigrant inflows is preferable to reducing/restricting inflows. A potential divergence between perceived and real costs and benefits associated with immigration and how to narrow such a difference is also discussed.