This Reality Check Animation Maps Two Centuries Of U.S. Immigration

Two hundred years ago, most immigrants to the United States were from Ireland and Germany, fleeing famine or a lack of jobs. By the late 1800s, Italy and Russia topped the list. It wasn’t until the 1960s that most immigrants came from Mexico–and by that point, immigrants made up a far smaller percentage of the overall population than they once had.

A fascinating new animation maps the path of the 79 million people who came to the U.S. over the last two centuries and became permanent residents (it doesn’t include people who were forced to come as slaves, mapped here, or undocumented immigrants). Each dot represents 10,000 people.

“I tried not to get into too much politics in the post, but I think some of the talk about immigrants lately has gotten a little bit out of hand,” says Max Galka, who created the visualization for his website, Metrocosm. “Regardless of which side people stand on, I think it’s important to keep in mind our history. It wasn’t that long ago that we all came over as immigrants, whether it was grandparents or great-grandparents.”

Galka, a former derivatives trader on Wall Street who taught himself how to build data visualizations, used data from the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Immigration Statistics.

While the number of immigrants increases over time, and the map becomes more active, Galka makes the point that as a percentage of the total population, immigration is happening on a smaller scale. In some cases, numbers have declined; in recent years, the number of Mexicans who have returned to Mexico is greater than the number who have immigrated to the U.S.

“I think people generally seem to think that immigration now is out of hand, and way worse than before, but in reality it’s very low compared to the past,” says Galka.