New Beginnings: Understanding U.S. Immigration History

There is nothing as life changing as moving to a new country and beginning a new life. In thinking of our current social issues, immigration is at the top of the list of topics that are difficult to solve and even to discuss. Sometimes, looking back at our county’s history can provide insights. Often referred to as a “nation of immigrants,” the United States has a resident population that is one-quarter foreign born or native born with at least one foreign-born parent. While most residents have immigration in their family histories, some 235 million, or 75 percent, must look back to the time of their grandparents’ generation or before in order to access their family’s immigration experience.In Las Vegas, we have a Foreign Born population that totals 21 percent of our total, so one out of five people was born elsewhere.2  That means our community has many more immigrants or refugees than many other areas of the U.S.

Whenever immigrants come to a country in large numbers, there is often a backlash or harsh feelings against those groups of people. The new residents are seen as somehow inferior, that they do not fit in to the existing social order, or are blamed for social issues that existed before they were here. In essence, they become a target. This has been going on in the U.S. for many centuries. Here are the words from actual U.S. newspaper advertisements from the 1800s:

From 1865: “Girl Wanted…to take care of a young child. Wages $3 a month. No Irish need apply.”

From 1893: “Wanted-an experienced Girl to do sewing and …  Germans or Swedes need not apply.”

There were specific bias against the most significant immigrants in each time period and these were widespread. Immigrants were often segregated in the poorest sections of cities and offered only the lowest wage positions–jobs no one else wanted. That is still the case today. One approach to changing this established behavior is by actively learning about other cultures and embracing what their immigrant experience can add to our society. See below for some great resources on US immigration history:

Library of Congress: Immigration

The Statue of Liberty: Ellis Island

Angel Island: Landing place for Asian Immigrants

Check out this interactive map on two centuries of immigration too!


And if you need help finding information on immigration or other topics, you can always Ask a Librarian!



  1. Edward Trevelyan, Christine Gambino, Thomas Gryn, Luke Larsen, Yesenia Acosta, Elizabeth Grieco, Darryl Harris, and Nathan Walters Characteristics of the U.S. Population by Generational Status: 2013 November 2016  Report Number: P23-214
  2. American Fact Finder. Vegas city, Nevada/POPULATION/DECENNIAL_CNT