Changing Targets: How Anti-Immigrant Sentiment Has Shifted in the U.S. Since 1900

The history of immigration in the United States is marked by waves of hostility and discrimination against various immigrant groups, often driven by economic, social, and political factors. Since the early 20th century, different racial, cultural, and immigrant groups have faced significant prejudice and opposition, reflecting broader societal anxieties and changes. 

A Long History Of Hate & Fear Of Others

Immigrants at Ellis Island The Everett Collection via Canva Pro
Immigrants at Ellis Island The Everett Collection via Canva Pro

From the Chinese and Japanese immigrants in the early 1900s to Latin American and Muslim immigrants in the 21st century, each decade has seen its own targeted groups. This pattern of anti-immigrant sentiment has been shaped by a complex interplay of economic downturns, wars, and shifting political landscapes, highlighting the persistent challenges faced by immigrants in their quest for acceptance and integration into American society.

Here is a decade-by-decade overview of the most targeted groups since 1900:


immigrants 1900.
Photo Public Domain.

Chinese and Japanese Immigrants: The Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 and the Gentlemen’s Agreement of 1907 severely restricted Chinese and Japanese immigration. Anti-Asian sentiment was prevalent, leading to laws like the California Alien Land Law of 1913, which prevented Asian immigrants from owning land.


Arriving Union Station.
Photo Public Domain.

Southern and Eastern Europeans: Immigrants from Italy, Poland, Greece, and Russia faced significant discrimination. The Dillingham Commission report of 1911 claimed these immigrants degraded American society, leading to calls for restrictive immigration policies.

Mexican Immigrants: The Dillingham Commission also identified Mexican laborers as essential for the Southwest, but they faced growing hostility and were often exempted from immigrant head taxes.


Buggy used for smuggling.
Photo Public Domain. Buggy used for smuggling.

Southern and Eastern Europeans: The Immigration Act of 1924 established national origin quotas that heavily favored Northern and Western Europeans while severely limiting immigrants from Southern and Eastern Europe.

Asian Immigrants: The Immigration Act of 1924 also effectively banned immigration from Asia, continuing the trend of anti-Asian sentiment.


Mexican laborer.
Photo Public Domain.

Mexican Immigrants: During the Great Depression, Mexican laborers were scapegoated for economic woes, leading to mass deportations of Mexican-Americans, including many U.S. citizens.


Interment camp.
Photo Public Domain.

Japanese Americans: Following the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941, over 120,000 Japanese Americans were forcibly relocated to internment camps under Executive Order 9066.


Operation Wetback.
Photo Public Domain.

Mexican Immigrants: Operation Wetback in 1954 led to the mass deportation of Mexican immigrants, reflecting ongoing hostility towards this group.


Immigrant quotas.
Photo Public Domain.

African and Asian Immigrants: The Hart-Celler Act of 1965 ended the national origins quota system, leading to increased immigration from Asia and Africa. However, these groups still faced significant discrimination and challenges in assimilation.


Immigrants 1979.
Photo Public Domain.

Southeast Asian Refugees: Following the Vietnam War, refugees from Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos faced significant hostility and violence in the U.S., particularly in areas like Boston.


migrant workers lined up for work
Photo credit Chad Zuber via Shutterstock

Latin American Immigrants: The rise in undocumented immigration from Latin America led to increased hostility and the implementation of stricter immigration controls.


Immigrant stats.
Photo Public Domain.

Latin American and Asian Immigrants: Anti-immigrant sentiment continued to grow, with significant opposition to undocumented immigrants from Latin America and refugees from Asia.


Muslin lives matter.
Photo Public Domain.

Muslim and Middle Eastern Immigrants: Following the 9/11 attacks, there was a significant increase in hate crimes and discrimination against Muslim and Middle Eastern immigrants.


Border security.
Photo Public Domain.

Latin American Immigrants: The focus on border security and the rise of anti-immigrant rhetoric, particularly during the Trump administration, targeted Latin American immigrants, especially those from Mexico and Central America.


Stop Asian Hate.
Image credit CHOONGKY via Shutterstock.

Latin American and Asian Immigrants: The COVID-19 pandemic saw a rise in anti-Asian sentiment and violence, while Latin American immigrants continued to face significant challenges and hostility, particularly at the U.S.-Mexico border.

America Is Immigrants

Map of immigrants.
Photo Public Domain.

This ongoing cycle of discrimination underscores the challenges of achieving a truly inclusive society. Despite the significant contributions of immigrants to American culture, economy, and innovation, the persistence of nativist attitudes and restrictive policies continues to shape the immigrant experience. Understanding this history is crucial for addressing contemporary issues of immigration and fostering a more equitable and welcoming society.

The Takeaway

Stop racism.
Image credit asiandelight via Shutterstock.

The history of anti-immigrant sentiment in the United States reveals a recurring pattern of hostility towards various immigrant groups, driven by economic, social, and political factors. Each decade has seen different groups targeted, from Chinese and Japanese immigrants in the early 20th century to Latin American and Muslim immigrants in recent years. 

Has The United States Ever Been This Politically, Socially And Culturally Divided In The Last 100 Years?

Double exposure image. A man and a woman scream at each other, their silhouettes are combined with a picture of fists to enhance drama.
Photo credit SvetaZi via Shutterstock

Every day we wake up to more news about how divided our country is and how increasingly angry and intolerant we are becoming of each other. It is not uncommon for many of us to feel anxiety and fear that we are headed in a direction we cannot return from. Has the United States ever been this politically, socially and culturally divided in the last 100 years? History says yes. And the influences on social divisions have been shifting.

READ: Has The United States Ever Been This Politically, Socially And Culturally Divided In The Last 100 Years?

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  • Robin Jaffin

    As the co-founder and managing partner of the digital media partnership Shift Works Partners, LLC through two online media brands, FODMAP Everyday® and The Queen Zone she has played a pivotal role in promoting dietary solutions for individuals with specific needs in the health and wellness industry as well as amplify the voices and experiences of women worldwide.

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