The idea of banning an entire racial or ethnic group from entering the US isn't a new proposal. Donald Trump is far from the first person to propose it. In fact, this country has a long history of picking and choosing whom it lets into its borders — and whom it doesn't. And this week two Republican Senators, alongside Trump, introduced a bill that would cut the number of legal immigrants entering the US in half by 2017. One of the senators, David Perdue of Georgia, says this is about "restoring legal immigration levels to their historical norms."
So what do historical trends look like? The interactive above provides an overview, which shows several periods in which the US implemented racist immigration policies.
In 1790, the US banned nonwhite people from naturalizing as citizens. In 1798, the US authorized the president to detain or deport noncitizens who were considered "dangerous to the peace and safety" of the country. Fast forward 80 years, and the US started banning all Chinese laborers from immigrating to the country. Tilted quota systems and systematically biased policies shaped the kind of people who could come the country. It wasn't until the past 60 years — when racial quotas were repealed — that immigrant demographics showed any semblance of diversity.
The graphic above shows how these policies affect who enters the country. It shows 200 years of legal immigration into the United States — and how different policies and international dynamics affect the patterns of who gets let in. Migration into the United States has ebbed and flowed in tandem with who policymakers believe ought to be allowed refuge and who doesn't qualify.
And we're back again to talking about restricting entire immigrant groups from coming to the US. But we ought to do it with some idea of how this country has done so before.
200 years of immigration also show how today's population came to be
But this isn't just a story about immigration. It also shows how today's US population came to be.
In 1820, where the graphic starts, there were only about 9.7 million people in the United States, which is about the current population of Sweden. So as the graphic shows 80 million people flowing in from other countries over the past 200 years, it also shows the making of the US as we know it today. (Note: A reader pointed out that country-by-country data before 1910 is notoriously unreliable, although general trends hold true.)
It is these people, and their descendants, who largely make up today's US population. European immigrants were the first and largest group to arrive, and there were subsequent policies that made it much easier for people from those countries to come to the US. That said, a decent numbers of Canadian and Chinese immigrants also arrived early in this country's history, and over the years, different policies allowed greater numbers of Hispanics and Asians to immigrate.
At the end of the graphic, you can see how colorful the bars get, which is partially the reason why demographers predict the majority of the US will be minorities by the year 2044.