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Watch the Past 200 Years of Immigration to the U.S. in Less Than 2 Minutes

First Posted: May 17, 2016 01:38 PM EDT
Immigration map to U.S.

Photo : Screenshot: YouTube / Metrocosm

Immigration is a hot-button issue in the U.S. right now, especially with the front-runner of the Republican Party calling out Mexico to pay for a wall he wants to build at the border.

While it's easier than to get caught up in the current contentious debate over immigration from (or more accurately, through) Mexico, a little data visualization of the past 200 years of immigration to the U.S., parsed by the countries that are the largest source of immigrants, provides a bit of perspective.

Two-Century Perspective on Immigration

Watching the unending flow of immigrants -- one dot accounts for 10,000 people -- from all over the world is a good reminder that the U.S. has always been a destination for people from all over the world looking to build a better life.

Zoom out to the perspective of two centuries' worth of immigration to the U.S., represented in less than about a minute and a half, and you start to get the idea.

Shifting Sources of Immigrants

"Through time, the immigration sources trace a clear path through the world," notes author, New York City-based entrepreneur, and data visualization wiz Max Galka, who created the video. "Starting in Western Europe with Ireland, Germany, and the U.K., the source moves east to Italy, Russia, and Hungary before shifting to the Americas and finally to Asia."

The animated data visualization comes from MetroCosm (via Redditor Megatron_Griffin in the InternetIsBeautiful subreddit), and shows roughly the past two centuries of immigration to the U.S. between 1820 and 2013. The top three source countries of immigrants are shown in the bottom left for each time period.

Data Limitations

The visualization is based on immigration data from the U.S. Homeland Security Office of Immigration Statistics.

There is a caveat about this visualization: the official U.S. immigration data is incomplete in a couple of ways.

For one, the data stops in 2013. The shift noted by Galka, from the Americas to Asia, actually hit a tipping point last year. That's when, as Latin Post reported in May 2015, the top source country for immigration to the U.S. officially changed Mexico to China.

Also, the data only shows "persons obtaining lawful permanent resident status," which does not account for undocumented immigrants. On the other hand, it also doesn't show the people brought to the U.S. as slaves.

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