We've all heard it. We all say it. "America is a nation of immigrants." Gotta be true, right? Well, the answer is, not exactly. The most frustrating thing about this overused trope is not just that it is an extremely simplified description of the history of our great republic, but that it is used as an argument against enforcing our own immigration laws. Even worse, it is used to portray those in favor of enforcing current immigration law as bigots or even anti-American. It would seem as though there is some confusion in our electorate.
America indeed has and continues to be the most welcoming place of new immigrants. The most desirable place for people looking to immigrate. The nation that offers the most prosperity for those looking to immigrate. My Grandfather immigrated to America from Italy. He loved all of those things about America and so do I. Once he got here, he started a family and had 8 children. Then those 8 children started families and had 18 children. That left our family with 1 man who immigrated here from Italy and 20 people who were native born Americans.
That is not a nation of immigrants. That is a nation of 20 Americans and 1 immigrant. And THAT is how America looked in the 20th Century.
In 1960, only 9.7 million people in America were foreign born. It was 5.4% of our population. In 1970, it dropped to only 9.6 million people for 4.7% of our population. In 2010, 40 million people in the United States were foreign born (not including the millions here illegally), for a share of 12.9% of the population. The only time in our history it was ever higher than that was back in the 1800s when the only people who were native born were "Native Americans"...or as I like to call them, "Indians."
So you can see, the argument that we are "a nation of immigrants" is not only factually wrong but how it is used to change our current immigration levels. Take a look at these maps from the Census Bureau to see how this increase it share of foreign born population has affected the places we live: