American Immigration: A Century of Living Amidst Growing Hostility

Authored by Samantha Brigher

Photograph of the wedding of Italian immigrants Francesco and Anna LaRocca, taken in September 1910 in Brooklyn, NY by August Hansen Werner.
The wedding of Italian immigrants Francesco and Anna LaRocca, September 1910, Brooklyn, NY

The Age of Mass Migration in the United States occurred between 1850 and 1913, with almost thirty million immigrants arriving during this period (Abramitzky, Boustan, and Erikkson 2014, 467-468). Between 1900 and 1920, the country had admitted 14.5 million immigrants (U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services 2016), the LaRocca family from Sicily being among those millions. New York City has been a “continuous gateway” destination for immigrants for well over a century, particularly for European immigrants arriving in the early half of the twentieth century (Waters and Kasinitz 2013, 94). Where there had been a level of tolerance for immigrants in the United States, anti-immigration sentiment had increased with the rise in immigrant arrivals, particularly from Europe (National Park Service 2018). Feelings of hostility towards Europeans grew with the advent of World War I and continued throughout the twentieth century.

The number of immigrant arrivals began to shape new laws and policies regarding those seeking admittance into the United States. European migration was brought to a temporary halt during World War I with the Immigration Act of 1917 (Vecchio 2006, 119; U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services 2016). Standards for immigration to the United States became more difficult under the Immigration Act with requirements regarding literacy, physical and mental health, socioeconomic status, and sexuality to name a few greatly reducing the number of people admitted into the country (Marinari 2017).

Though hostility towards European immigrants has died down over the years, anti-immigration sentiment is still alive and well in the United States, the only thing that has changed is who is now a target of such prejudice. People seeking to immigrate from Mexico and Central American countries as well as the Middle East have become the new targets of anti-immigrant sentiment (Schmid 2017, 29). The unfortunate trend we are seeing repeated is fear of those who are “different,” and those who fall subject to this fear have found a false sense of security in promises made by the current executive branch of the United States government. There has been a rise in hostility towards immigrants from the above-mentioned countries and to appeal to individuals with those beliefs there has been a creation of new executive orders trying to limit new immigrants based on nationality and religious background under the guise of national security.

It is crucial to combat this type of hatred and ignorance, and organizations like the Center for Migration Studies of New York focus on the promotion and understanding of immigrants and their communities (Center for Migration Studies of New York 2019), the LaRocca family is just one example of millions of other immigrants with their own stories to share and learn from. The United States is a country built by and for immigrants. America is a cultural melting pot that is only made better when we welcome people with open arms, open minds, and open hearts.


Abramitzky, Ran, Leah Platt Boustan, and Katherine Eriksson. 2014. “A Nation of Immigrants: Assimilation and Economic Outcomes in the Age of Mass Migration.” Journal of Political Economy 122 (3): 467-506. doi:10.1086/675805.

Center for Migration Studies of New York. 2019. “About.”

Marinari, Maddalena. October 2, 2017. “Another time in history that the US created travel bans — against Italians.” PRI’s The World.

National Park Service. October 3, 2018. “Immigration and the Great War.”

Schmid, Carol L. 2017. “The Past Is Ever Present: Transnationalism Old and New – Italian and Mexican Immigrants in the US.” International Migration 55 (3): 20–37. doi:10.1111/imig.12317.

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. February 4, 2016. “Mass Immigration and WWI.” Our History.

Vecchio, Diane. 2006. “Ties of Affection: Family Narratives in the History of Italian Migration.” Journal of American Ethnic History 25 (2/3): 117-33.

Waters, Mary C., and Philip Kasinitz. 2013. “Immigrants in New York City: Reaping the Benefits of Continuous Immigration.” Daedalus 142 (3): 92-106.

Werner, August Hansen. September 1910. Photograph of the wedding of Francesco and Anna LaRocca. CMS.108, Series II: Photographs, Collection 108, Photograph 38, Marian Caltagirone Papers. Center for Migration Studies of New York, New York.

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