In the early 1900s, immigration in the U.S. reached a high point, which prompted Americans to educate immigrants about the culture. The “Americanization” movement focused on helping immigrants to become “civic-minded and participatory.” While naturalization was the end result, the process was designed to teach them American values and to foster a sense of civic responsibility. Government agencies, the education system, community organizations, faith-based organizations, and others were involved.
Encouraging immigrants to assimilate into their new culture was necessary, but some considered it presumptuous at best and racist at worst. We were stripping immigrants of their culture and pressuring them to live according to our standards. Americanization began to wane after World War I, as the U.S. passed laws that limited immigration. So-called national origin quotas remained in effect until 1965.
Between 1966 and 2008, the population grew from 200 million to 300 million people, with immigrants and their U.S.-born children accounting for 55 percent of the growth. By 2025, the foreign-born population is projected to exceed the previous century’s peak of 14 percent. By mid-century, the foreign-born population is projected to reach 19 percent. According to the U.S. Census, whites will be a minority at 47 percent of the U.S. population. Hispanics will comprise 29 percent, blacks 13 percent, and Asians 9 percent.
The Americanization concept made a comeback in the late 20th century. In 1997, the bipartisan U.S. Commission on Immigration Reform issued a final report to Congress calling upon federal, state, and local governments to welcome new legal immigrants and help them integrate into American society. The commission recommended that the U.S. admit more high-skilled immigrants and fewer low-skilled immigrants, acquire better controls against illegal immigration, and reduce legal immigration. For good measure, it added:
The Commission decries hostility and discrimination against immigrants as antithetical to the traditions and interests of this country. At the same time, we disagree with those who would label efforts to control immigration as being inherently anti-immigrant. Rather, it is both a right and a responsibility of a democratic society to manage immigration so that it serves the national interest.