The story of American immigration is the story of the unique experiment called the United States. About 14% of U.S. residents were born outside of the country, and 94% identify with an ancestry other than American.
In its annual American Community Survey, the U.S. Census Bureau asks Americans to identify their ancestry. Ancestry refers to a person’s lineage or ethnic origin. Ethnic composition varies heavily across the United States and is often a reflection of centuries-old migration patterns. Every state has a unique ethnic community whose history can in many cases be traced back hundreds of years.
To determine the most unusual ancestry in every state, 24/7 Tempo reviewed data from the ACS on the 106 most commonly reported ancestries. The ancestry with the largest share of respondents in a state relative to the national share — a calculation known as the location quotient — was defined as the most unusual ancestry.
The United States has never had a consistent immigration policy. Early waves of immigrants — from the 17th century to the mid-19th century — flowed into the country seeking religious freedom and economic opportunity mostly from European countries. In an act of xenophobia, America slammed the door shut on Chinese immigrants with the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act.
The opening of Ellis Island in New York in 1892 helped process the tide of immigrants from Europe who filled the ranks of factory workers as the country’s economic expansion accelerated. The nation changed its immigration laws in 1965 to end a quota-based system that favored immigrants from Europe, leading to greater numbers from Asian and Latin American countries.
According to the Migration Policy Institute, immigrants coming to the United States today are more likely to be from Asia than any other world region. U.S. Department of Homeland Security statistics show that more than one in three individuals who obtain lawful permanent resident status in 2018 were from Asia.
Immigrants today are also on average more educated than previous generations of migrants to the U.S. Nearly one-third of adult immigrants had a college degree or more in 2018, an almost identical percentage to native-born Americans.
Each wave of immigrants enriches American culture and creates unique neighborhoods and enclaves. Here are America’s melting pot cities.