The Rise of the Sunbelt
During WWII, Americans began to move more to the South and West of the country, thanks partly to defense industry plants on the Pacific Coast and to Army bases located in the South. This trend continued during the post-war period and into the 21st century, as the aerospace industry continued to grow in Florida (NASA), California, and Seattle (Boeing). The new computer industries of the 1980s and onward were based in places like Texas and Silicon Valley in California. This trend was also about comfort: air conditioning made living in hotter climates more tolerable. Finally, the deregulation or continued lack of labor protections in Southern states led to manufacturing and other industries moving their production facilities to more Southern states, particularly in the automobile industry.
All these changes meant that more and more Americans lived in the Sunbelt, an arc going from California through Texas and down to Florida. This, of course, changed the face of American politics as states like Texas, Florida, and California continue to be hugely influential in the electoral college. The cultural impact of the South as a region increased through things like NASCAR racing and Country music 🤠.
After Johnson’s Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965 ended nativist quota systems from the 1920s, immigration began to diversify and increase, partly because family members were no longer counted in the immigration limits. In fact, the US population would have decreased in recent decades had it not been for immigration. These new immigrants brought their cultures with them, increasing the diversity and richness of American life. They also provided an important influx of labor, both skilled and unskilled, into the American workforce.
The number of immigrants from Latin America continued to be a high percentage of overall immigrants, with many coming from Mexico as farm laborers, but many also coming from the “North Triangle” countries of Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala as a result of civil wars and violence in the 1980s and later (These were often caused by US meddling in their affairs during the Roosevelt Corollary era or during the anti-communist interventions of the Cold War). This increase in Latinx immigrants led to Hispanics outnumbering African Americans as a percentage of the American population (around 16% vs. 13% as of 2015), and to Hispanic clusters in California and the American Southwest.
Immigration from Asia also began to increase during this time, especially from countries like Vietnam, the Philippines, China, India, and Korea. The 2010 census indicated that Asian-Americans are now the fastest growing group of immigrants, thanks partly to US immigration law that prioritizes high-skilled immigrants and the general level of assimilation that Asian-Americans have achieved in recent years through both education and intermarriage.
One particularly sticky point of immigration was the US’ policy toward undocumented immigrants. President Obama signed an executive order (EO) that created the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program that prioritized deporting undocumented immigrants with violent criminal records rather than those brought to the US as children and thus raised in US society. This was extremely controversial, not only for its immigration stance, but also because the US continued to fight over the separation of powers and the power of the Executive Branch (Obama wrote the EO because a bipartisan bill to fix the US immigration system failed in Congress).
Unfortunately, as we have seen before in APUSH, an influx in immigration often corresponds with a polarization of the electorate and with nativist backlashes. Although Reagan granted amnesty to approximately 3 million undocumented immigrants in the 1980s, immigration activists have criticized the Republican party for growing increasingly hardline in their immigrant stance, especially after 2016 and the election of President Trump, who made opposition to immigration a core part of his election platform. Immigrant rights groups also criticized the Obama administration for deporting more undocumented immigrants than any previous president.