From The Washington Post:
The United States has seen an extraordinary influx of immigrants in recent decades. In 1970, the foreign-born were only 4.7 percent of the nation. Now, they make up 13.7 percent of the population.
We’ve been here once before. As this chart from the Census Bureau shows, the flow of newcomers over the past century resembles the letter U. Between 1840 and 1920, the nation experienced an even larger immigration surge. By the early 1900s, nearly 15 percent of U.S. residents had been born in a different country.
Then, as now, not everyone was pleased with the way the nation was changing. A growing nativist movement lobbied — often violently, and often in racist terms — for laws to close the borders. This xenophobic uproar culminated in the Emergency Quota Act of 1921, which capped the number of people that could arrive each year.
By the time the baby boomers were growing up, the immigrant presence in the United States was reaching its lowest ebb. But their children — especially today’s millennials — were born into a more welcoming climate. In 1965, spurred by the civil rights movement, Congress softened its racist restrictions on immigration, causing the foreign-born population to increase again.
The abrupt change in policy created a generational divide. Those who came of age in the 1990s were roughly three times more likely than their parents to encounter peers who were immigrants or the children of immigrants.
This may help explain why younger generations tend to be much more accepting of immigrants. The Public Religion Research Institute, for instance, finds that 68 percent of young adults say that immigrants strengthen American society, while only 42 percent of their elders agree.
With the foreign-born population projected to reach record levels in the coming years, immigration has again become a front-and-center political issue, just …