The History of Immigration in the US

Few things have shaped the American identity as decisively as the history of migration and immigration in the US. Our country is, as Walt Whitman once described, a “teeming nation of nations”  — a place defined as much by our differences as our similarities, yet brought together by the shared belief in the possibility of a better life.

Throughout our history, our country has benefited greatly from the continuous arrival of new people. The influence of immigrant cultures is seen in our vibrant, multi-ethnic society. Yet we live in a time when the issue of immigration has emerged and become a sharply divisive issue politically. Skepticism about whether new immigrants will integrate into the fabric of our nation remains an ongoing theme in the public debate on immigration policy.

A Look Back to the Future

Black and white photo of a traveling family of 4, with 2 adults and 2 children, all wearing coats as one adult holds a large piece of luggage

It’s important to remember that this controversy isn’t new. Through our history, prior generations have voiced similar concerns that new waves of immigrants will make America, well, less American. Now is the time to explore historical facts about immigration to bring light to the history of immigration in the US, and to remind ourselves of the real human beings whose lives are taking place in the center of the debate.

Two adults smiling, one holding a U.S. Citizenship Certificate and an American flag while the other holds a Tenement Museum pamphlet

The history of American immigration is filled with stories of people who have overcome economic, religious, racial and social obstacles to succeed and thrive. Our national identity has been shaped by the fresh energy and optimism, and the new ideas and ambitions that each successive generation of immigrants has brought. Their story is our story — and America’s story.

Immigration & Migration Facts

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86.4 Million

Population of immigrants and their American-born children in the U.S.

$2 Trillion

Estimated contribution of immigrants to the U.S. gross domestic product (GDP) in 2016.


Percentage of Fortune 500 companies that were founded or co-founded by immigrants or their children as of 2017.


Share of all new business in the U.S. and half of Silicon Valley high-tech startups that were founded by immigrants.
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Number of immigrants who are naturalized citizens.