Teaching about Immigration

Alyssa Knipfing
Oceanwide High School, Oceanside, New York

Aim: Why did people immigrate to the United States? Why New York City?

Do Now: Read both passages, A & B, and answer the guiding questions to the right.

(A) Internal Immigrants: Quotas on foreign immigration unleashed a wave of internal migration between 1920 and 1965. The largest groups to move were from the U.S. south. Rural Southern blacks and whites migrated to northern and western cities seeking work in expanding factories. Many African Americans hoped to find increased freedom away from the racially segregated south. This migration created new African American communities in New York City in Harlem and Bedford Stuyvesant. Spanish-speaking Puerto Ricans came to the mainland seeking work in record numbers during these years. Because Puerto Rico was a U.S. colony, Puerto Ricans were not restricted by immigration quotas.

(B) Newest Immigrants: In 1965, the United States revised its immigration laws, making it possible for millions of new immigrants to enter the country. The newest immigrants to the United States, Brooklyn, and East New York, include tens of thousands of people from the Caribbean, South and Central America, West Africa, Eastern Europe, and Asia. These people seek work and economic, political, and religious freedom. Despite hostility that has often greeted them, many have decided to put down roots and become United States citizens.

Questions: According to Passage A, What caused the creation of new African American communities in New York City?According to Passage B, What regions did immigrants come from in the 1960s?In your opinion, do you think the benefits of living in American society outweighed the harsh realities of daily discrimination?  

The picture above is a neighborhood street in Bedford Stuyvesant (Source:https://people.hofstra.edu/alan_j_singer/294%20Course%20Pack/6.%20Immigration/115.pdf)

Directions: Read the following passages about the historical background of immigration with your groups. Answer the guiding questions in your social studies notebooks.

(C) New Arrivals: From 1840 until 1880, new European groups migrated to the United States. The Irish fled starvation and persecution by the British. In the United States they became factory workers and helped build the canals, railroads, and the labor movement. Scandinavians were farming people who largely settled in the midwest. The Germans migrated in large numbers because of war and failed revolutions. Many Germans were skilled workers and they settled in new cities. During this period there were so many German immigrants that Chicago schools taught students in German. People of German decent remain the largest ethnic group in the United States today. During this period large numbers of Chinese also migrated to the United States. They settled on the west coast where they helped to build the railroads. When the economy was strong, these new people were generally accepted. However, economic hard times brought strong anti-immigrant feelings including the spread of racist ideas. Immigrant workers were attacked, their unions were broken, and laws were passed to keep out new immigrants. In 1882 the first exclusion laws banned immigrants from China and other “undesirables.” In 1908, the United States also blocked immigration from Japan.

The map above shows the immense decrease in population in Ireland during the Irish potato famine that caused mass starvation

(source: https://people.hofstra.edu/alan_j_singer/294%20Course%20Pack/6.%20Immigration/115.pdf)

Questions for Passage C: Why did the Irish flee their homeland? What kind of work did the immigrants do in U.S.? Why did the Germans flee their homeland? How were the Irish and German immigrants treated?In your opinion, why do you think American citizens treated the immigrants so harshly? Explain.

(D) Ellis Island: Between 1880 and 1921 millions of new immigrants poured into the United States from Eastern and Southern Europe and from Mexico. They included Slavic people like Russians, Poles, and Ukrainians, Mediterranean groups like Italians, Sicilians, Greeks, Turks and Armenians, and religious groups like the Eastern European Jews. Most of these new immigrants arrived by boat in New York City through Ellis Island. They were poor people who traveled in “steerage,” along with their luggage in the hold of large steamships. Most of the new arrivals from Europe settled in Eastern coast and midwestern cities where they lived in overcrowded slums and unhealthy and unsafe tenement housing. Many did dangerous work in mines, mills, and factories. In New York City, immigrants dug the subway tunnels and water aqueducts, built the skyscrapers and bridges, and developed the garment industry. Conditions were so difficult that almost 50% of the Italians and Sicilians and over 30% of the Slavs who came to the United States eventually returned home. Many immigrants were union leaders and political activists who tried to improve conditions for poor people and workers. Mother Jones and Elizabeth Gurley Flynn were Irish. Joe Hill was Swedish. Sacco and Vanzetti were Italian. Sam Gompers, Sidney Hillman, and David Dubinsky were Jews. By 1919, anti-immigrant sentiment was growing in the United States again. Southern and Eastern European immigrants were branded as radicals and undesirables who could never become truly American. In 1921 and 1924 quota laws were passed to effectively stop immigration from these areas.   Source:https://people.hofstra.edu/alan_j_singer/294%20Course%20Pack/6.%20Immigration/115.pdf 

The picture above is showing immigrants arriving to Ellis Island

The picture above is showing immigrants being processed.

Questions for Passage D:

Where did the millions of new immigrants come from? How and where did they arrive to the United States? What kind of jobs did the immigrants have in New York City? In your opinion, why do you think those jobs were given to the immigrants?In your opinion, why do you think anti-immigrant sentiment was growing in the United States?

(E) Directions: Examine the map below and answer the “Geography Skillbuilder – Interpreting Maps” questions in your SS notebooks.

Aim: How did the Immigration Act of 1924 (Johnson-Reed Act) affect immigration into the United States?  How did it affect immigration into New York state?

Do Now: Read the historical background and answer the guiding questions in your notebooks.

Historical Background: “The Immigration Act of 1924 made the principle of national origin quotas the permanent basis for U.S. immigration policy. The Immigration Act of 1924, also known as the Johnson-Reed Act, restricted the number of immigrants from a given country to 2% of the number of residents from that same country living in the United States. The percentage quotas were strongly biased towards to the “Old Immigrants” from North-Western Europe as opposed to the “New Immigrants” from South-Eastern Europe. The Immigration Act of 1924 shut the ‘Golden Door’ to America and 87% of immigration permits (visas) went to immigrants from Britain, Ireland, Germany, and Scandinavia. The law completely excluded immigrants from Asia. Calvin Coolidge was the 30th American President who served in office from August 2, 1923 to March 4, 1929. One of the important events during his presidency was the Immigration Act of 1924.”

Source: http://www.american-historama.org/1913-1928-ww1-prohibition-era/immigration-act-of-1924.htm

Directions: With your shoulder partners, read and examine the following boxes about the legislation’s causes and effects. Discuss the importance of the act and how it impacted immigration from foreign lands into the United States. Then, write a brief paragraph about the concept of justice in regards to both of the parties involved: Was the act fair to American citizens? Was the act fair to immigrants? Was the United States justified in their decision to pass this act limiting and restricting immigration from certain lands? Explain your thoughts to the aforementioned questions by using supporting evidence from the surrounding boxes.


  1. What was the Immigration Act of 1924?
  2. Why was the Immigration Act of 1924 passed?
  3. What was an important effect of the legislation?
  4. In your opinion, do you think President Calvin Coolidge’s support for this legislation helped or hurt the United States? Explain your opinion with evidence from the passage.

Reasons Why the Immigration Act of 1924 Was Passed:

  • Immigration levels between 1900-1920 had soared, reaching over 14 million new immigrants into America
  • The Dillingham Commission Report had inflamed racial prejudice towards immigrants from South-Eastern Europe creating discrimination between Old and New Immigrants
  • The Eugenics Movement, the pseudo-science supported by highly prominent and influential people, fueled anti-immigrant and racist beliefs in America
  • The 1919 recession and high unemployment had led to strikes, violence and riots that prompted the Red Scare in America
  • Nativism and xenophobia in America led to a wave of anti-immigration hysteria that swept the country – the government became under enormous pressure to restrict immigration

Why was the Immigration Act of 1924 important?

→ Consolidates US laws Restricting Immigration
The Immigration Act of 1924 consolidated the principles of the following acts and made them permanent features of US law to restrict Immigration:

● The 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act 
● The Immigration Act of 1907
● The Immigration Act of 1917 (Asiatic Barred Zone)
● The 1921 Emergency Quota Act
● The National Origins Act of 1924

Assignment: Based upon the data shown in the table above, describe what happened to the New York City population from 1900 to 1930. Make sure to describe the trends before the Immigration Act of 1924 was passed and what happened to the demographics in New York after it passed. Explain in about 150 words what was happening using data to support your claims. Record your response in your social studies notebook.

Directions: Read the passage below and examine the data table to the right with your partners. Then, answer the guiding questions in your social studies notebooks.

Who Was Shut Out? Immigration Quotas, 1925-1927

In response to growing public opinion against the flow of immigrants from Southern and Eastern Europe in the years following World War I, Congress passed first the Quota Act of 1921 then the even more restrictive Immigration Act of 1924 (the Johnson-Reed Act). Initially, the 1924 law imposed a total quota on immigration of 165,000—less than 20 percent of the pre-World War I average. It based ceilings on the number of immigrants from any particular nation on the percentage of each nationality recorded in the 1890 census—a blatant effort to limit immigration from Southern and Eastern Europe, which mostly occurred after that date. In the first decade of the 20th century, an average of 200,000 Italians had entered the United States each year. With the 1924 Act, the annual quota for Italians was set at less than 4,000. This table shows the annual immigration quotas under the 1924 Immigration Act. Source: http://historymatters.gmu.edu/d/5078

Aim: How did the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965 (Hart-Celler Act) affect immigration into the United States?

Do Now: Read the following passages and answer the guiding questions in your social studies notebook.

Passage A: The 1965 Immigration and Nationality Act, for the first time in American history, accepted immigrants of all nationalities on a roughly equal basis. The law eliminated the use of national-origin quotas, under which the overwhelming majority of immigrant visas were set aside for people coming from northern and western Europe.

Passage B: The pattern of U.S. immigration changed dramatically. The share of the U.S. population born outside the country tripled and became far more diverse. Seven out of every eight immigrants in 1960 were from Europe; by 2010, nine out of ten were coming from other parts of the world. The 1965 Immigration Act was largely responsible for that shift. No law passed in the 20th century altered the country’s demographic character quite so thoroughly.


  1. According to Passage A, What was the main goal of the new legislation in 1965?
  2. According to Passage B, What was the ratio of immigrants from Europe in the 1960s?
  3. In your opinion, what are the major differences between the Immigration Act of 1924 we studied earlier and this piece of immigration legislation?

President Lyndon B. Johnson sits at his desk on Liberty Island in New York Harbor as he signs a new immigration bill, October 1965.


Directions: Examine the following sources with your groups and answer the guiding questions in your social studies notebooks.

Questions: How many immigrants (in millions) consisted of the U.S. population in 1960?Why did immigration into the U.S. increase from 1970 to 1990?In your opinion, why do you think the Census Bureau projects a steady increase of immigrants until the year 2060?

DOC #1 Source: https://cis.org/Report/HartCeller-Immigration-Act-1965

DOC #3 Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chinese_Americans#/media/File:Chinese_Population_USA.jpg

Percentage of Chinese population in the United States, 2000:

Questions: According to the map, Which American states have the greatest Chinese populations? Which have the smallest Chinese populations?Which major American cities are well-renowned for their Chinese populations? How do you know? [Hint: think of America’s many “Chinatowns”]. In your opinion, What do you think this map will look like in the next fifty years? Explain your thoughts.

DOC #4 Source: http://www.pewhispanic.org/2015/09/28/chapter-5-u-s-foreign-born-population-trends/

U.S. Foreign-Born Population Trends: Modern Immigration Wave Brings 59 Million to U.S., Driving Population Growth and Change Through 2065 – SHIFT IN ORIGINS

In 1960, 8.2 million immigrants from Europe and Canada were living in the U.S. By 2013, that number had fallen to 5.9 million. Over the same period, the number of immigrants who were born in South or East Asia increased almost thirtyfold, from about 400,000 in 1960 to 10.7 million in 2013. Immigrants from Mexico are not far behind, with about 20 times as many Mexican immigrants in 2013 (11.6 million) as there were in 1960 (600,000).

Questions: According to the pie-graph, Where in the world were immigrants predominantly coming from in 1960? Percentage? What are the four major regions where immigrants came from in the year 2013? Percentages? In your opinion, what do you think this pie-graph will look like in the next fifty years? Explain your thoughts

DOC #5 Source: http://www.pewhispanic.org/2015/09/28/chapter-5-u-s-foreign-born-population-trends/

U.S. Foreign-Born Population Trends: Modern Immigration Wave Brings 59 Million to U.S., Driving Population Growth and Change Through 2065 – TOP COUNTRIES OF BIRTH

Looking at the top countries of origin among immigrants in the U.S. by state, there is a shift from 1960 to 2013. In 1960, while Mexico was the biggest country of origin in the border states (California, Arizona, New Mexico and Texas), Canada and European countries such as Italy, Germany and the United Kingdom dominated the rest of the country. In 2013, Mexico was the top country of origin in 33 states, encompassing most of the West, South and Midwest. Immigrants in the remaining states have diverse origins, including the Caribbean, Central America, Canada, South and East Asia and Africa.


  • According to the data table above, from rank #1 to rank #3, Which countries were the top birthplaces of immigrants in:
    • 1960?
    • 1990?
    • 2013?
    • What type of United States legislation do you think was responsible for the change in birthplace origins of immigrants into the United States? Explain why.
    • In your opinion, Which country/countries do you think will be the most popular place immigrants will come from in 2050? Explain your thoughts.


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