This year, many will engage the age-old holiday tradition of heated political debate with your loved ones. With mathematical certainty, someone will mention immigration. It makes sense that immigration finds itself at the center of so much contentious political discourse. After all, immigration reflects who we are as a country. Our country is built upon the unique and diverse contributions of countless cultures and people. In a more tangible sense, this country is the product of the economic contributions of immigrants. In fact, today, the United States is home to more immigrant workers than any other country on earth. Over the course of the 20th century, the United States built itself into an economic world power, largely reliant upon immigrant workers. The country now seeks to maintain its status as an economic leader, but immigration reform poses significant barriers to economic progress. With news of economic downturn, the real-world impact of American immigration policy is in the spotlight.

Our country has a complicated history with immigration. For the vast majority of its history, the United States maintained an open immigration policy with few restrictions. In these early years, immigration was primarily driven by Europeans, seeking freedom from religious and political persecution and economic opportunity. With Europeans came the forced immigration of hundreds of thousands of enslaved persons. In the mid-19th century, economic conditions began to shift in the United States. Initially, the California Gold Rush, which took place around 1848 to 1855, ushered in the first significant wave of Chinese immigrants to the West Coast. As westward expansion gave way to industrialization throughout the country, a new wave of immigrants began arriving from Southern and Eastern Europe. Suddenly, a new wave of immigrant laborers sought to achieve the same American dream chased by settlers just a century prior.