Immigration and Citizenship
Data for Every Location in America
Data for Every Location in America
About 13.7 percent of people living in the United States were born in another country. The nation's foreign-born population is incredibly diverse in its origins—and it is unevenly distributed across the United States. Every place in America is home to a unique group of immigrants.
This site explores the data behind that diversity. Choose a topic below. Then search for any state, county, or city in the United States to see the data for that location.
What We Know About Immigrants
This site uses the term immigrant more or less synonymously with the term foreign-born, meaning anyone residing in the United States who was born in another country. Only the latter term is reported by the Census Bureau's American Community Survey (ACS), our primary data source. Note that the foreign-born population may include some people who do not consider themselves true immigrants, such as students and expatriates from other countries. Also, ACS data may not be available for locations with very small sample sizes (see About this Site).
Roughly half of foreign-born U.S. residents are naturalized citizens. The remainder are not citizens. Non-citizen immigrants include permanent residents, refugees, and migrants seeking asylum, as well as unauthorized or "illegal" immigrants. The ACS does not divide the population of non-citizen immigrants into these smaller categories.
Immigration is a controversial topic in the United States, and always has been. Nativists have long accused immigrants of being associated with crime, poverty, and other social maladies. Supporters of liberal immigration policies argue that immigrants often enrich the economy and culture of their communities. LiveStories correlated the data on the foreign-born population with various social and economic indicators across every county, both good and bad. Click here to explore these correlations as an interactive visualization. While limited conclusions can be drawn from correlating statistics, the results may surprise you.
Immigration in America: A Short History
The First Immigrants to America
Native Americans have long lived in the land that would become the United States for thousands of years. Scientists believe their ancestors first came to North America from Asia about 20,000 years ago, traveling across the Bering Strait. The first Europeans to reach North America were the Norse Vikings, who sailed to Canada around 1000 C.E., but did not establish permanent settlements.
By the 1500’s, Spanish explorers had found their way to the so-called “New World” and established settlements and forts in what is now Florida and the Southwest. The earliest English immigrants to America included settlers who established the first British colony—Jamestown, Virginia—in 1607. They also included refugees fleeing religious persecution in Europe, among them the Pilgrims who landed at Plymouth Rock in 1620.
From then on, waves of Europeans sailed to America—English, Spanish, Dutch, and Swedish, among others—bringing considerable wealth and technology to the new settlements. Diseases from the "Old World" followed the immigrants, decimating Native American communities who had no immunity to the invisible contagions. The Europeans also brought with them hundreds of thousands of slaves kidnapped from Africa.
“Every American who ever lived, with the exception of one group, was either an immigrant himself, or a descendant of immigrants. The exception? Will Rogers, part Cherokee Indian, said that his ancestors were at the dock to meet the Mayflower.”
—John F. Kennedy, from his 1958 book, “A Nation of Immigrants.”
Immigration to the Early United States
After the United States declared its independence, the nation's first Census in 1790 counted 3.9 million people, about 20 percent of whom were of African heritage. Native Americans were not counted.
In the 1800’s, the nationalities of immigrants to the United States began to shift. The Potato Famine in 1845 drove millions of Irish immigrants to seek new lives in the United States. On the west coast, Chinese immigrants entered through San Francisco, many seeking—like many Americans—the riches of the California Gold Rush. In 1850, foreign-born residents accounted for nearly 10 percent of the U.S. population.
Immigrants were sometimes met with hostility. In 1855, nativists formed a political party, popularly called the Know-Nothings, based largely on opposition to immigration. In 1882, Congress passed the Chinese Exclusion Act, limiting immigration from that country.
Beginning in 1892, immigrants traveling across the Atlantic were routed through a new facility at Ellis Island, New York, under the shadow of the Statue of Liberty. In 1903, Emma Lazarus’ poem, “The New Colossus,” was cast in bronze and set upon the statue’s pedestal, reading:
“Give me your tired, your poor, | Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, | The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. | Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me, | I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”
Immigration in the Modern Era
During and immediately after World War I (1914-1918), Congress passed a series of restrictive immigration laws, culminating in the Johnson-Reed Act of 1924. This law limited the number of immigrants to quotas based on their nationality, and completely barred immigrants from Asia.
In the tumultuous decades of economic depression and war after the Johnson-Reed Act's passage, immigration to the United States plummeted. Many Jews and others fleeing Nazi Germany sought refuge in the United States, but only a few were admitted through the quota system. Meanwhile, immigrants from Japan and Germany, along with their descendants, faced suspicion and discrimination. During World War II (1939-1945), about 117,000 Japanese-Americans, including both immigrants and citizens born on U.S. soil, were held in internment camps.
After the war, opposition to immigration gradually softened. The Displaced Persons Act of 1948 enabled 200,000 European refugees to resettle in America. In 1965, Congress passed the Immigration and Nationality Act. This law did not completely eliminate quotas, but it did rescind the Johnson-Reed Act's policy of basing them on national origin, and encouraged immigration intended to reunify families.
The law's effect was profound. Immigration to America skyrocketed, particularly from non-European regions. Among the new groups of immigrants were Southeast Asians fleeing violence in Vietnam and surrounding countries, as well as increasing numbers of Mexicans and other Latin Americans. Today, people from Asia and Latin America have far eclipsed Europeans as the most populous foreign-born residents in the United States.
The American Community Survey: Foreign Born | The U.S. Census Bureau's American Community Survey (ACS) is the main source of data on this site.
Migration Policy Institute | A nonpartisan organization that "seeks to improve immigration and integration policies through authoritative research and analysis."
Key Findings About U.S. Immigrants | One of several resources about immigration from the Pew Research Center, published June 2019.
Immigration Timeline | A timeline showing forces behind immigration and their impact on the immigrant experience, from the Statue of Liberty Ellis Island Foundation. We used this as our main source for the "Immigration in America: A Short History" section on this page.
10 Steps to Naturalization (pdf) | A concise explanation from the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.