What I Learned from Viewing 37 Immigration Maps

1903 Map

Back in February 2017, VOX published a series of maps under the title “37 Maps that explain how America is a nation of immigrants.”  I recently spent some time with these maps and here is what I learned (or was reminded of):

  • Native Americans were immigrants
  • The United States has more immigrants than any other country in the world, but Luxemborg and Israel have more immigrants per capita.
  • Prior to 1965, Germany sent the most immigrants to the United States.  After 1965, Mexico sent the most immigrants to the United States.
  • The most concentrated immigrant enclaves: French in southern Louisiana, Germans in the Dakotas, Norwegians in North Dakota, Dutch in western Michigan and northwest Iowa, West Indians in Manhattan, and French Canadians in North Dakota.
  • Slaves came to America from Africa, the West Indies, and South America by the hundreds of thousands as forced immigrants.
  • Over 17,000 migrants come to America a year as victims of human trafficking.
  • More immigrants to America speak English today than at any other point in American history
  • The grandchildren of Latino immigrants “barely speak Spanish.”
  • Immigrants are forestalling the decline of the Midwest
  • America was not a “global destination” until the 1965 Immigration Act
  • “Unauthorized immigration” was in a generally steady decline between 2000 and 2010.
  • The anti-immigrant Know Nothing Party candidate, Millard Fillmore, won the state of Maryland in the 1856 presidential election.
  • The U.S. “border zone” includes Bangor, Maine; Salem, Oregon; Grand Rapids, Michigan; and Burlington, Vermont.

Look at the maps here and tell me what you take away from the exercise.

13 thoughts on “What I Learned from Viewing 37 Immigration Maps

  1. Funny to think about my history classes in school in the 1960s and 70s. The prime idea was that Columbus discovered America, which was unsettled.

    Other than the fact that he didn’t and there were a lot of people here before Europeans came, it was correct.


  2. i’m not totally sure it’s a pre-existing population that makes the difference — I think it might be more that the word immigrant presupposes a western, modern state ‘s legal system. In that sense I both disagree with calling Native Americans immigrants and with calling European colonizers immigrants, as I feel both are anachronistic. Dropping the univocal term of course allows one to use more vivid and precise images if you want about the Europeans — colonizers, conquerors, invaders, settlers backed by state violence or whatever…. (and one would probably need to adopt a range of descriptors depending on which Europeans, where and when, and to distinguish between the total framework in which all Europeans operated (powerful centralized states authorizing, funding, militarily protecting the project) and the actions and experiences of individuals and groups within that framework. Indeed, an important treason to avoid “immigrant” is I think it obscures the coercive role of the European (and later American) state and its in the conquest of the Americas and its peoples.


  3. Native Americans were NOT immigrants. Even if we accept the Bering Strait theory (which is dubious among contemporary archaeologists, as there are human remains that predate the Wisconsin glaciation that exposes Beringia) immigrants are by definition migrating into the territory of a pre-existing population. Further, putting American Indians and settlers within the same category, as previous commentators have demonstrated, has a long history of minimizing the violence of colonialism.


  4. Sounds like the normal three-generation pattern of assimilation:
    First Generation is Old Country.
    Second Generation has one foot in each.
    Third Generation are Americans with funny last names.

    Though here in Del Norte, the basis of Anglo fear is that if the immigration volume gets overwhelming, they won’t be assimilating to ours, we’ll be assimilating to theirs. (And the high-profile Raza Boy/Mexican Supremacist activists who keep popping up sure don’t help matters.)


  5. The interesting thing about the Immigration Act of 1965 (Chart #19 in the Vox story) is that it replaced the strict per-county immigration quotas with a much more flexible arrangement. The Immigration Act of 1965 introduced the 7% rule. Instead of limiting the number of visas based on nationality, the law allows anyone to apply and prevents any one country’s citizens from taking more than 7% of the available visas. Today, only family based immigrants from Mexico and the Philippines and employment based immigrants from India and China are are singled out by the act for disparate treatment. Finally, while I’m not sure it will pass the Senate or be signed by the president, there’s a bill in Congress to get rid of the 7% rule.


  6. Interesting post John — and a good teaching resource. I like Map 16 the best, reminding us that both the idea of US being a nation of immigrants and virulent anti-immigration sentiments are in the American DNA.

    In your summary you say you learned that “The grandchildren of Latino immigrants ‘barely speak English.’ Lest Fox News invite you on to talk to this, I think you meant “barely speak Spanish” (Map 14) 😉


  7. Native Americans were immigrants

    And like that other type of “Native American” (1830s WASP definition), they won’t admit to it.

    (Though these DO have a stronger case both in prior occupation plus their traditional creation myths; during the dust-up over Kennebec Man, one wag I know called the latter “American Indian Young Earth Creationism”/”We Were ALWAYS Here”.)


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