Immigration has remade and changed American society since the nation's founding, and an understanding of the past can help illuminate the immigrant experience in the present. This essay focuses on three central questions: What is new about the most recent immigrant wave? What represents continuity or parallels with the past? And how have migrant inflows in earlier historical periods changed the social, economic, political, and cultural contexts that now greet – and shape the experiences of – the latest arrivals? In examining these questions, the focus is on the last great wave of immigration at the turn of the twentieth century, in which the newcomers were mainly from Eastern, Southern, and Central Europe, and the contemporary inflow, from the late 1960s to the present, which is made up overwhelmingly of people from Latin America, Asia, and the Caribbean.

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