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How the U.S. would look if immigrants “went back where they came from”

How the U.S. would look if immigrants “went back where they came from”
[Photo: Caleb Woods/Unsplash]

“Go back where you came from.” Usually targeted at more recent immigrants by less recent immigrants to the United States, the phrase is now synonymous with the rising nativist sentiment brought to light by the election of Donald Trump.

It’s a phrase that data viz designer Nathan Yau hears sometimes, even though he was born in California and his mother was born in New York. “I grew up in a mostly non-Asian city, so I used to hear the phrase sometimes,” he writes. “Kids like to pick on the one who looks a little different. But these days, when I hear an adult say it to another adult, it catches me off guard. It doesn’t make sense.”

So what really would happen to the U.S. if all immigrants went back where they came from? Earlier this month, Yau took a literal approach to this question by mapping it out. First, he laid out U.S. population based on the American Community Survey from 2012 through 2016, mapping the 315 million people by ethnicity.

[Images: courtesy Nathan Yau]

Then, he slowly started to subtract from this map, showing the country after 197.3 million non-Hispanic white people leave. Then after 39.1 million black and 16 million Asian people leave. Then after 51.7 Hispanic and Latino people leave. Then the 7.9 people who are mixed race. The map slowly gets emptier and emptier.

The last map shows 2.1 million Native Americans, Alaskans, and Hawaiians, with the map almost completely a shell of itself. You can’t even see its outline–a powerful visual metaphor for how important immigrants are to the U.S.

“A simplified view, but you get the point,” he writes. “Everyone comes from somewhere.”

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