This interactive map shows where the 79 million people who have immigrated to the US from 1820 to 2013 came from. In the past, incoming residents from Canada, Italy, Germany, and Ireland were prevalent, but more recently Mexico, China, and the Philippines have led the way.
What I think is particularly interesting about immigration to the U.S. is that each “wave” coming in from a particular country has a story behind it — usually escaping persecution (e.g. Jews escaping Russia after the May Laws were enacted, the Cuban Revolution) or major economic troubles (e.g. the Irish Potato Famine, the collapse of southern Italy after the Italian Unification).
There are plenty of dark spots on United States’ history, but the role it has played as a sanctuary for troubled people across the world is a history I feel very proud to be a part of.
The graph of incoming immigrants as a percentage of the total US population is especially instructive. Though higher than it was in the 60s and 70s, relative immigration rates are still far below what the country saw in the 1920s and before.
Among the requirements that all immigrants must meet to become a naturalized US citizen is a civics test covering US history and government. The test contains 100 questions, 10 of which are verbally posed by a Citizenship and Immigration Services officer…no multiple choice. Applicants must answer 6 out of 10 correctly to pass. The questions include:
What is the supreme law of the land?
What is freedom of religion?
What stops one branch of government from becoming too powerful?
The House of Representatives has how many voting members?
What is the name of the President of the United States now?
Under our Constitution, some powers belong to the states. What is one power of the states?
What are two ways that Americans can participate in their democracy?
The Federalist Papers supported the passage of the U.S. Constitution. Name one of the writers.
When must all men register for the Selective Service?
Name one war fought by the United States in the 1800s.
What was one important thing that Abraham Lincoln did?
Why does the flag have 13 stripes?
Before he was President, Eisenhower was a general. What war was he in?
Name one of the two longest rivers in the United States.
Name two national U.S. holidays.
You can take a 20-question multiple choice test on the USCIS website or if you want to see how many you can answer out of 100 with no multiple choice, I knocked up a Google Sheets version here — access is read-only but you can make a copy and take the test by choosing File / Make a copy… from the menu. Here’s a full list of the questions and suggested answers to check your work. Without studying, some of the questions are more difficult than you’d think, particularly if your last political science and American history classes were 25 years ago in high school.
And like all tests, this one is imperfect.1 In 2001, Dafna Linzer wrote about her test-taking experience.
Then there is Question 12: What is the “rule of law”?
I showed it to lawyers and law professors. They were stumped.
There are four acceptable answers: “Everyone must follow the law”; “Leaders must obey the law”; “Government must obey the law”; “No one is above the law.”
Judge Richard Posner, the constitutional scholar who serves on the U.S. Court of Appeals in Chicago, was unhappy. “These are all incorrect,” he wrote me. “The rule of law means that judges decide cases ‘without respect of persons,’ that is, without considering the social status, attractiveness, etc. of the parties or their lawyers.”
The Simpsons lampooned this aspect of the test in 1996 when Apu answered a question about the Civil War2 during his civics test.
Examiner: “Alright, here’s your last question: What was the cause of the Civil War?”
Apu: “Actually there were numerous causes. Aside from the obvious schism between the abolitionists and the anti-abolitionists, economic factors both domestic and international…”
Examiner: “Hey, hey…”
Examiner: “Just… just say ‘slavery’”.
Apu: “Slavery it is, sir.”
This would never happen in a million years, but I would love for someone to sit down with Donald Trump to see how many of these he could answer. Like I said, if you haven’t studied, some of the questions are not that easy. But surely the President of the United States should be able to get almost all of them correct…
kottke.org will not be updated today in support of the Day Without Immigrants Strike. From the Washington Post:
Immigrants in D.C. and across the country plan to participate in the “Day Without Immigrants” boycott, a response to President Trump’s pledges to crack down on those in the country illegally, use “extreme vetting” and build a wall along the Mexican border. The social-media-organized protest aims to show the president the effect immigrants have in the country on a daily basis. The boycott calls for immigrants not to attend work, open their businesses, spend money or even send their children to school.
The regularly irregular publishing schedule will resume tomorrow.
In October 2011, after 20 years of living legally in the United States, Atanas Entchev and his 21-year-old son were detained by the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency, given orange jumpsuits to wear, and held for 65 days. Entchev is writing a book about his experience called My American Lemonade.
Day after day from my bunk, I listened to the immigration stories of my roommates. We all had one. Mine involved over 20 years of countless dollars spent on lawyers who would help me navigate the paperwork and court dates necessary for immigration, based on my request for political asylum. Meanwhile I strived to be tops in my field, starting with a presidential certificate from George H. W. Bush and receiving an Outstanding Professor designation from INS, ICE’s predecessor agency. I started my own company, paid taxes, and raised two children here. But that obviously wasn’t enough. I had failed at giving me and my family what we wanted most: U.S. citizenship. I dug deep, used what my family had taught me about resolve and hope, and thought a lot about my past to remind myself why I’d left Bulgaria. Why I’d bothered. The irony was especially palpable to me lying in that bunk, recalling the moment I knew for sure I must leave.
Entchev is one of kottke.org’s most thoughtful readers…he’s been sending email, links, and typo corrections regularly for more than four years now. From what I understand, he’s completed a book proposal consisting of the first three chapters and is looking for an agent. If you can help him out in that regard, drop him a line.
Thomas Friedman: “I think any foreign student who gets a Ph.D. in our country — in any subject — should be offered citizenship.” Extend that to those who enrich our country in other areas (Bjork, Yao Ming, Rem Koolhaas) and I’m in. (The whole article is behind the Times’ paywall — I didn’t even read it — but I thought that one line was pretty interesting by itself.)
Update: Here’s the full text of the article. (thx, daniel…and everyone else who sent this to me via email)