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An immigrant is a person who comes from other nations to live in a new country. The first immigrants to the United States came from England. The first African Americans came to America in 1619.

Immigrants were divided into two groups. The Old Immigrants came around the time of the Revolutionary War. They came from northern and western Europe. The New Immigrants came just before the Civil War. The Irish came in the 1850's when there was a potato famine in Ireland. The Irish settled along the East Coast. The Germans came seeking religious freedom. They settled in the Midwest. In the 1860's, Chinese came to work on the railroads and in the mines of the west. Many Chinese settled in California.

The largest number of immigrants came between 1870 and 1910. Twenty million people came during these 40 years. Most Immigrants came from eastern and southern Europe. On arriving in the United States, most came through the New York City Harbor.

Immigrants were kept at Ellis Island until they could prove their identity and were tested for good health. As many as 5,000 immigrants passed from ships to Ellis Island each day.

Many immigrants took low paying jobs and lived in slums.  Immigrants added their languages, songs, and foods to the New York melting pot.

Chinese emigration to America: sketch on board the steam-ship Alaska, bound for San Francisco

In 1882 Congress passed a law forbidding any more Chinese to come to America. A bill was passed in 1917 that kept any person not able to read and write English out of America. In 1924 Congress passed another law limiting the number of immigrants coming to the United States from Europe, Asia, and Africa. The law set a quota for each nation.

  • More than 85% of the total number of immigrants had to come from northern and western Europe.

  • Some would be allowed from Asia and Africa.

  • None could come from Japan or China.