Immigration Today: An Overview

Contributor: Tara Ondra. Lesson ID: 13163

The faces of immigrants have changed over the centuries. Learn about the largest immigrant groups in America today, classifications of immigrants, and their reasons for coming to the U.S.


United States, United States, World Cultures

Social Studies
learning style
personality style
Beaver, Golden Retriever
Grade Level
High School (9-12)
Lesson Type
Dig Deeper

Lesson Plan - Get It!

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  • Immigration is a hot topic in the news, but what do you know about immigration in the United States?
  • How many immigrants come to the U.S. annually and why?
  • Where do they come from, and where do they go? 
  • How have the faces of immigration changed over time?

plaque of The New Colossus poem by Emma Lazarus at The Statue of Liberty

It's a long trek from the Philippines, India, China, Mexico, or El Salvador to the United States, and yet people from these countries come to America every day in search of a better life.

The Declaration of Independence protects its citizens' "life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness," and it is those basic rights that appeal to immigrants, or foreign-born people. In many cases, their basic rights as well as educational and professional opportunities are extremely limited in their home countries, or their lives are in danger due to war or violence.

If we look at the history of the United States, we can see that immigration has been a constant.

In the 1600s, the British arrived in this land that belonged to the Native Americans. The late 1800s saw an influx, or entry of a large number of people, of Japanese. Many Italians arrived in America in the early 1900s. Today, Mexicans are crossing the border in search of a better life.

These new faces are constantly changing and diversifying, or making more varied, the American fabric.

The plaque pictured above is located at the base of the Statue of Liberty on Ellis Island, where many immigrants first arrived in the United States. It reads in part, "Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free..."

Think about what those words mean as you watch this video.

  • So, how many immigrants are currently living in the United States?

According to the Migration Policy Institute, there were 44.5 million immigrants as of 2017, which is 13.7% of the U.S. population. The percentage of immigrants to the total population has varied over time. The ultimate high of 14.8% occurred in 1890.

  • From where are the recent immigrants coming?

As of 2017, Mexico accounted for the largest number of immigrants, followed by China and India. Additionally, many are coming from the Philippines, El Salvador, Dominican Republic, Cuba, and Vietnam. See how the flow of immigrants to the U.S. has changed over time in this (silent) video map.

  • How do people immigrate?

Just as there are many reasons why people immigrate, there are a number of ways to do so, none of which are simple. The legal route involves extensive paperwork, and intensive screening and background checks. The illegal route may involve tremendous danger through unknown territory, crossing rough waterways or extremely treacherous deserts.

  • Where do immigrants go once they've arrived to the United States?

Immigrants are everywhere! You may have a neighbor, a family member, or a classmate that is an immigrant. But there are clusters, or groups, of immigrants in different states and different cities.

  • Where do you think the largest populations of immigrants are?

Check out this interactive map of U.S. Immigrant Population by State and County to see if you're right. You can change the country of immigration to see different results.

There is a lot to learn about immigration! Let's head over to the Got It? section to learn more about the different paths toward immigration.

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