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Historical Census Statistics on the Foreign-Born Population

On January 1, 1892, the federal government opened the immigration station on Ellis Island in New York Harbor. Between 1892 and 1954, over 12 million immigrants were processed into the country there. Annie Moore, a 15 year-old Irish girl, was the first immigrant to enter the United States at Ellis Island.

The U.S. Census Bureau has collected data on place of birth since the 1850 Census. Here are some facts about immigrants in the United States:

  • The foreign-born population accounted for 10 percent of the total U.S. population in 1850, and 15 percent in 1890. Today, the foreign-born comprise 12 percent of the population.
  • In 1910 most foreign-born residents spoke English, German, Italian, Yiddish, or Polish. By 1960, Spanish had replaced Yiddish as one of the most-often spoken languages. In 2007, 62 percent of individuals who spoke a non-English language at home spoke Spanish. American Community Survey estimates from 2010 show the county with the highest percentage of the population 5 and over that spoke Spanish at home was Starr, Texas, at 95.9 percent.
  • Between 1960 and 2000, the percentage of foreign-born U.S. residents [PDF 1.7 MB] of European descent decreased from 75 to 16 percent. At the same time, the percentage of foreign-born U.S. residents born in Latin America increased from 6 to 51 percent.
  • According to the Current Population Survey, 23 percent of the nation’s population are either first or second generation residents: 12 percent of the population were born in another country and 11 percent were born in the United States and have at least one foreign-born parent.

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