The history of US immigration on one chart.
Two waves, the first from Europe then starting in the 1970s from Latin America.
How Latin America Drove U.S. Immigration from 1970–2019
Published 2 days ago on March 10, 2023
LatAm, otherwise known as Latin America, has been one of the biggest sources of immigration to the U.S. over the last one hundred years.
Since the 1970s, the region has driven the second wave of U.S. immigration and helped shape the country’s future immeasurably. This is especially clear when looking at Census data listing where people were born.
This chart from Latinometrics looks at the history of U.S. immigration considering both documented and undocumented immigration since 1850.
Historical U.S. Immigration
For most of its early history, Europeans drove immigration to the United States.
The UK, Ireland, and Germany were especially big sources of American immigrants well into the 20th century. But around the 1960-70s this began to shift, with LatAm countries marking the next wave of U.S. immigration.
ℹ️ LatAm includes all Central American, Caribbean, and South American countries.
Here’s a sample of the history of U.S. immigration using select years and regions:
As of 2019, 22.6 million foreign-born people in the U.S. were originally from LatAm countries, with 10.9 million from Mexico alone.
Additionally, in 2021 Mexican citizens received the highest number of U.S. immigrant visas in the world at almost 40,600. Immigrant visas are the first step in the process to U.S. green cards and citizenship.
And though Asian countries are beginning to make up the majority of U.S. immigrant applicants and permits, other LatAm countries also ranked high in issued permits in 2021:
🇩🇴 Dominican Republic: 17.9K
🇸🇻 El Salvador: 7.8K
🇪🇨 Ecuador: 5.1K
🇨🇴 Colombia: 4.8K
Furthermore, there is also undocumented immigration to consider. According to 2019 figures from Brookings, there are between 10.5-12 million undocumented migrants living in the U.S.—making up just over 3% of the population.
Here’s a look at the top five countries in terms of undocumented immigration to the U.S. in 2019, most of which are LatAm countries:
In the last few years, more and more Asian countries are seeing their citizens leave for the United States. In addition, the knock-on effects of the COVID-19 pandemic and the Russo-Ukrainian War (as well as other global events and crises) could shift U.S. immigration even further away from LatAm.
Currently, the U.S. is only permitting small numbers of legal immigrants to enter the country each year, numbering in only the hundreds of thousands. But as birth rates decline, the growth in the foreign-born population will continue to be a much-discussed and important topic for the country’s demographics in the coming years.