Arab American communities have a long history in the United States. The diverse group includes anyone from or whose previous parents are from the 22 Arabic-speaking countries of North Africa and the Middle East.
Beginning in the late 19th century, immigrants from the Ottoman Empire began to migrate to the United States to find work or escape political strife. This immigration slowed in 1924, when the U.S. government instituted immigration quotas that prioritized people from northern and western Europe, and resumed after 1965, when the U.S. got rid of of this quota system.
After that, Arab immigration mainly increased until 2017 and 2018, when new travel bans targeting predominantly Muslim countries slowed this immigration. President Joe Biden revoked the existing travel ban in 2021 when he took office, but the bans have still significantly slowed Arab immigration to the United States.
Immigrants from Greater Syria leave the Ottoman Empire
The first period of significant migration from the Arab world began around 1880 and lasted until 1924. During this time, approximately 95,000 immigrants came to the United States from what was called Greater Syria, a region of the Ottoman Empire. This region included present-day Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Palestine and Israel.
“The biggest driving force was really the kind of disintegration of the Ottoman Empire [which dissolved in 1922]and the financial pressures that prevailed on Mount Lebanon in particular,” explains Randa Kayyali, author of American Arabs.
In Lebanon, a burn on mulberry trees important for silk production caused the industry to collapse, leading many silk producers to seek work in other countries. Immigrants from Lebanon and other parts of Greater Syria left to escape poverty and famine, but also political problems. In the early 1900s, the Ottoman Empire’s decision to conscript Christians and Muslims into the army motivated Christians in Greater Syria to emigrate.
Once in the United States, many Arab immigrants found work in factories in the Northeast or Midwest (some of the country’s first mosques were built by Arab American Muslims in North Dakota, Michigan, and the United States). ‘Iowa). Others worked as peddlers, selling goods door to door throughout the country.
Because of hawking displacement, by 1900 “you would find a small Arab community in just about any state,” says Matthew Jaber-Stiffler, a researcher at the National Arab American Museum in Dearborn, Michigan.
Although Arab immigration plummeted during World War I, the major shift in immigration came in 1924, when the United States passed an immigration law known as the Johnson- Reed. This law established a quota system that favored immigrants from northern and western Europe, while severely restricting the ability of people from other parts of the world to immigrate to the United States.
Scroll to continue
Johnson-Reed Act slows immigration in 1924
The Johnson-Reed Act quota system was in place for four decades and dramatically reduced the number of Arab immigrants to the United States. With its passage in 1924, immigration from the Arab world fell to around 1,000 people or less per year.
After World War II, the United States began to make some exceptions which slightly increased the number of immigrants from Arab countries. The U.S. government made exceptions for doctors, scientists, engineers, and others with in-demand professional skills who wanted to immigrate to the United States. As a result, many educated people from countries such as Syria, Lebanon, Palestine, Jordan, Egypt, and Iraq came to the United States, marking the beginning of a phenomenon known as “leakage”. brains”.
The other exception was for refugees. The wars in Palestine in the late 1940s that led to the establishment of Israel and the displacement of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians led many to seek refuge in other countries. The Refugee Relief Act of 1953 allowed 2,000 Palestinian families to immigrate to the United States. The United States also accepted another 985 Palestinian families in the late 1950s and early 1960s.
In 1965, the United States experienced another major change in its immigration policy. The Hart-Celler Immigration and Nationality Act eliminated the discriminatory quota system from 1924, allowing many more people from outside Northern and Western Europe to immigrate to the country. This led to an increase in immigration to the United States from all over the world, including Arab countries.
READ MORE: Timeline of immigration to the United States
1966-1990 sees an increase in immigration from the Arab world
The new law led to a sharp increase in Arab immigration. Between 1966 and 1990, some 400,000 people immigrated to the United States from the Arab world.
Many of these immigrants were trained professionals or students who came to study in American schools and then found work in the country. Others were refugees fleeing conflict at home. In addition to Palestinians, who continued to flee displacement and discrimination, the United States began taking in refugees from Lebanon’s civil war, which lasted from 1975 to 1990.
The fourth great period of immigration from 1990 to the present day has been very difficult. During this period, many refugees fled conflicts in Arab countries, including wars started by the United States. After the attacks of September 11, 2001, the United States began to require Muslim men over the age of 16 who had recently immigrated from certain Arab countries to submit to annual photographs and fingerprints, resulting in many many Arab Americans feel unwelcome in the country.
Arab immigration in the 21st century
After a brief decline, Arab immigration has continued to grow in the 21st century, with tens of thousands of Arab immigrants entering the country every year. However, Arab immigration dropped dramatically after 2017, when President Donald Trump signed an executive order severely restricting travel, immigration, or the ability to claim refugee status in seven predominantly Muslim countries: Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen.
In 2018, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld an amended version of the ban targeting people from the predominantly Muslim countries of Iran, Syria, Yemen, Libya, and Somalia, as well as Korea. North and Venezuela. President Joe Biden revoked the ban in 2021 when he took office.