Immigration – Why they came

Living the American Dream

Neil Diamond wrote the song “America” in tribute to the impact of immigration in America. It speaks of the quest for opportunity that embodied millions of people who crossed into our nation.

Neil Diamond “America” Lyrics


We’ve been traveling far
Without a home
But not without a star 


Only want to be free
We huddle close
Hang on to a dream 

On the boats and on the planes
They’re coming to America
Never looking back again
They’re coming to America 

Home, don’t it seem so far away
Oh, we’re traveling light today
In the eye of the storm
In the eye of the storm 

Home, to a new and a shiny place
Make our bed, and we’ll say our grace
Freedom’s light burning warm
Freedom’s light burning warm 

Everywhere around the world
They’re coming to America
Every time that flag’s unfurled
They’re coming to America 

Got a dream to take them there
They’re coming to America
Got a dream they’ve come to share
They’re coming to America 

They’re coming to America
They’re coming to America
They’re coming to America
They’re coming to America
Today, today, today, today, today 

My country ’tis of thee


Sweet land of liberty


Of thee I sing


Of thee I sing


America – A Nation of Immigrants: An Essay by Anonymous 

The fabric of American society has been woven with the threads of diverse cultures, beliefs, and histories. Often described as a “melting pot,” the United States of America stands testament to the power of immigrants in shaping a nation’s destiny. The image of the Statue of Liberty holding up her torch in New York Harbor is emblematic of the promise of hope, freedom, and opportunity that America has offered to millions of immigrants over centuries. From its inception to the present day, immigration has been a foundational element of America’s narrative, making the country a rich tapestry of ethnicities, religions, and traditions.

Historical Overview

The early inhabitants of America, the Native Americans, set the stage for a continent rich in culture and diversity. But with the voyages of explorers in the 15th and 16th centuries, a wave of immigration began that would change the landscape of the continent forever. European settlers, driven by the promise of new lands and opportunities, established colonies, marking the beginning of one of the largest voluntary migrations in human history.

In the 19th century, the US experienced another massive wave of immigration. Fleeing famines, political unrest, and seeking economic opportunities, immigrants from Ireland, Germany, Italy, and many parts of Eastern Europe poured into America. Each group brought its distinct culture, language, and traditions, enriching the socio-cultural milieu. The late 19th and early 20th centuries saw the influx of Asian immigrants, who contributed significantly to the development of the West Coast, most notably in the building of the transcontinental railroad.

The Immigrant Ethos and the American Dream

Central to the allure of America for many immigrants was the promise of the “American Dream.” The idea that, regardless of one’s background, hard work and determination could lead to success and prosperity was (and remains) a powerful magnet. Immigrants believed in the possibility of a better life and were willing to endure significant hardships to achieve it. This indomitable spirit, this pursuit of a dream, has been a driving force behind America’s rise as a global superpower.

The cultural, economic, and social contributions of immigrants are seen in every facet of American life. From the arts to the sciences, from cuisine to politics, immigrants have left an indelible mark. Names like Albert Einstein, Andrew Carnegie, and Madeleine Albright stand as testimony to the fact that immigrants have not just been part of the American story—they have been pivotal in shaping its direction and ethos.

Challenges and Controversies

However, the history of immigration in America is not without its challenges. Every new wave of immigrants faced its share of prejudices and hostility. There were concerns about the dilution of “American values,” economic strains, and perceived threats to jobs. The Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 and the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II are dark chapters that underscore these sentiments.

Contemporary debates about immigration continue to be contentious. Issues concerning border security, citizenship for undocumented immigrants, and the status of “Dreamers” (children brought to the US illegally) dominate political discourse. Yet, while policies and public opinion have fluctuated, the resilience and contributions of immigrants remain undeniable.

Reimagining America in the 21st Century

In the era of globalization, the narrative of immigration is evolving. The U.S. is witnessing not just an influx of people but also an exchange of ideas, technologies, and enterprises. Immigrants are at the forefront of tech innovations in Silicon Valley, medical research in leading universities, and cultural renaissance in the arts and entertainment sectors. As the lines of nationality blur, the fusion of global influences promises an even richer American tapestry.

The challenge for America in the 21st century is to remember and honor its immigrant heritage while navigating the complexities of a changing world. As the demographics of immigration shift, with more people coming from Asia, Latin America, and Africa, there is a need for a more inclusive, comprehensive, and humane approach to immigration policies. An approach that recognizes the invaluable contributions of immigrants and respects the aspirations of those who see America as a beacon of hope.


At its core, America is, and always has been, a nation of immigrants. The stories, dreams, and aspirations of those who ventured to a new land in search of a better life are interwoven into the very fabric of the country’s identity. To appreciate America is to understand and celebrate its immigrant heritage.

As former President John F. Kennedy, himself a descendant of Irish immigrants, aptly put it, “Everywhere immigrants have enriched and strengthened the fabric of American life.” As the nation looks ahead, it is crucial to uphold this spirit of inclusivity and diversity, recognizing that it is in this melding of cultures and ideas that the true strength and promise of America lies.

Class Notes – Why did immigrants come to America?

Both Franklin D. Roosevelt and John F. Kennedy found it necessary to remind the American people that the United States is a nation of immigrants. Every person on the North and South American continents came from someplace else — either as an immigrant herself or as a descendant of immigrants. It is a telling and unfortunate commentary that we require regular reminders of these facts.

The late nineteenth century was one of the great ages of immigration in American history. This era of immigration differed from previous immigration booms in two key respects: scale and sources. In many ways, the change in sources of immigration was more important than the change in scale. By far the largest sources of immigrants in the period were the nations of central, eastern, and southern Europe. These immigrants were refugees from economic privation and political and religious persecution in the ailing empires of Austria-Hungary and Russia and the new, fragile nations of
Italy and Germany.

This also was the first great period of Asian immigration to America, mostly from China but with a trickle of immigrants from Japan and Korea as well. However, anti-Asian feeling in the western United States, exacerbated by such cynical politicians as Daniel Kearny of California, limited both the extent of Asian immigration and the degree to which the Asian immigrants could take full advantage of the opportunities available to their white neighbors.

The growth of immigration in this period was spurred, as were so many other social phenomena, by technology. The development of ocean-going steamships and the rise of a great transoceanic trade spanning the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans made it possible for tens of thousands of men, women, and children to seek a new life in America and, despite the lure of the large eastern cities, to spread out across the continent to do so. Moreover, the rise of American industries and the growth of the railroad system created thousands of jobs — both in factories and in the construction trades — that offered powerful inducements to prospective immigrants seeking a new life.

Immigrants came to America for many reasons. Beginning in the 1600’s and 1700’s America was seen as the land of opportunity. The Pilgrims came for the opportunity to have religious freedom. The Quakers and French Huguenots did as well. Economic opportunity was also a goal of many early immigrants. Whether it was the search for
gold, the chance to own land and a farm or the chance to start a new life… even as an indentured servant; America was the “new world” and full of opportunities.

Immigration Before 1865

Before the Civil War America had an open immigration policy. Anyone could come here with no restrictions. Immigrants at this time were considered the “OLD IMMIGRANTS.”

Old Immigrants:

Came from northwestern Europe. These immigrants were mostly English and German. There were some French. These immigrants were light skinned and had light eyes and hair. They were Protestant.

Immigration After 1865

After 1865 Americans began to restrict immigration. Groups called nativists formed to oppose immigration. The Ku Klux Klan and the Know Nothings were nativists groups.

Immigration from 1890 – 1920

A look at the statistics below shows that immigration increased tremendously in the early 1900’s until it was slowed by the Emergency Quota Act (also known as the National Origins Act) in 1920. These immigrants were different from the Old Immigrants and were called NEW IMMIGRANTS.

New Immigrants:

Came from Eastern and Southern Europe. These immigrants were from Russian and Polish Jews, Italians and Irish. Their religions were different from the Old Immigrants (Catholic and Jewish). They were typically darker in color with darker hair and eyes. 

Immigration from Asia

Chinese and Japanese immigration occurred throughout the periods listed above. It was Chinese labor that built the transcontinental railroad. Because of their unique racial background, however, they were discriminated against a great deal. As a result Asian immigrants are neither old or new immigrants.