TABLE 2.2 Region of Origin of Foreign-Born Population in the United States, 1850-1990

Region of Origin

1850

1900

1950

1970

1990

Canada and Europe

97%

98%

89%

67%

26%

Caribbean and Latin America

1

1

6

19

43

Asia

0

1

3

9

25

All othersa

2

0

2

5

6

Total Foreign-born population (in millions)

2.2

10.3

10.4

9.6

19.8

a The all other category includes Africa, Oceania, Pacific and Atlantic Islands, persons born at sea, and persons with no reported region of origin.

Source: U.S. Bureau of the Census (1975: Part 1; 1993).

As the number of legal immigrants rose during each of the past four decades, from 2.5 million in the 1950s to 6 million in the 1980s, their racial and ethnic composition has also changed.

Immigration from Europe and Canada has decreased steadily both in absolute and relative terms during the past four decades. By the 1990s, only about 14 percent of legal immigrants came from these traditional sources.15 In relative terms, the biggest gain has been by Asia, which had 6 percent of legal immigrants in the 1950s and 44 percent in the 1980s. About 2.6 million Asians entered legally in the 1980s, more than all immigrants in the 1950s.

Latin American immigration expanded from 26 percent of legal immigration in the 1950s to 40 percent in the 1960s, where it has remained since. In the 1980s, Latin America accounted for 2.4 million of legal immigrants. Mexico is the largest single source of legal immigrants, accounting for 12 to 14 percent of the flow during each of the past four decades. When illegal immigration is included, Latin America far surpasses Asia as the source for immigration, and Mexico becomes the predominant single source of immigrants into the United States.

Current U.S. Immigration Policy

U.S. immigration policy has revolved around five fundamental factors: social, economic, diversity, humanitarian, and national security. Although current

15  

The availability of diversity visas has lifted the European share to about 20 percent in recent years.



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