MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Thirteen percent of people living in the United States right now were born in another country, including David Chavarria of Minneapolis, who moved here from Mexico when he was five years old.

“The town that we came from was poor so they decided to come up here for the job benefits,” Chavarria said. “We came up here and my dad started his own company installing fences.”

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The percentage of foreign-born people in America has changed over time. It was at an all-time high of 15 percent at the turn of the 20th century when most immigrants were from southern and eastern Europe. It dipped to just below 5 percent in 1970 after a change in the federal immigration law that did away with quotas and replaced them with family relationships or skills requirements.

“One of the problems right now is that it’s been 50 years since we’ve had comprehensive immigration reform,” said Erika Lee, director of the Immigration History Research Center at the University of Minnesota.

In the 1970s, Italy made up the largest share of the immigrant population at 11 percent, followed by Germany (9 percent), Canada (8 percent), Mexico (8 percent) and the United Kingdom (7 percent).

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In 2013, immigrants from Mexico made up the largest share at 28 percent, followed by India (5 percent), the Philippines (5 percent), China (4 percent) and Vietnam (3 percent).

Lee says Americans have been debating immigration policies in the United States since we colonial times.

“Since the very beginning, Ben Franklin talked about the swarthy Germans taking over Pennsylvania,” she said.

Irish-Catholic immigrants faced anti-immigrants sentiment beginning in the 1830s. In the 1880s, U.S. lawmakers began passing the first rounds of discriminatory anti-immigrant legislation against the Chinese (1882), Indians (1917), Japanese (1924) and Filipinos (1934).

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It’s estimated one million people come to the U.S. every year, which puts the U.S. at the top of list of countries when it comes to raw numbers. But, percentage-wise, the U.S. ranks 12th in immigrants per capita behind Luxembourg, Israel, Switzerland, Australia, New Zealand and Canada.

Heather Brown