On Wednesday, three seemingly unrelated things overlapped in an unexpected way.

Over at Fox News, host Tucker Carlson was lamenting the “crowding” of the United States that increased immigration was causing.

“This is becoming a crowded country, and crowded countries are ugly, unhappy countries,” Carlson said, sticking with a general theme that led to advertisers abandoning his show in 2018. “Why are we letting that happen? That’s a rhetorical question, of course. No one asked us what we wanted. They just did it. No one asked the countries these immigrants are coming from either.”

His viewership was probably down a bit that evening, though. It was St. Patrick’s Day, the day on which we celebrate Irish American contributions to the country.

This is the historical trajectory of immigration in the United States. New arrivals are often disparaged, seen as dirty and diseased, as Irish immigrants were 150 years ago. Then, slowly, the new immigrants blend into the broader American population. Now, those of Irish or Italian or Eastern European descent are simply viewed as unexceptional White Americans. St. Patrick’s Day involves its share of negative stereotypes, certainly, but no one is excoriating the dirtiness of Irish immigrants.

The modern story of immigration is not of immigrants from Europe but, instead, of new arrivals from Latin America or Asia. That’s largely a function of the passage of the Immigration and Nationality Act in 1965, which loosened prohibitions against immigration from Asia and encouraged reunification of families. While the shift in policy led to an initial surge of migrants from Mexico in particular, there have been more new immigrants from Asia in recent years than from Latin America.

That, of course, is the third point of overlap with Wednesday, a tragic one. In Atlanta, a man allegedly entered three businesses and opened fire, killing eight people, including six women of Asian descent. Atlanta has been a hub of recent Asian immigration, and the shootings quite understandably have the area on edge.

Despite Carlson’s rhetoric, this migration has played an important role in bolstering the United States. Between 2010 and 2018, nine states, mostly in the northeast, saw population growth only because of new immigration. The country’s White population is aging, leaving gaps in the labor force. Filling those gaps with new working-age people has depended heavily on immigration.

We can lose sight of the way in which immigration has already shaped the country as it is today. Inspired first by curiosity about the distribution of the population with Irish ancestry, we pulled Census Bureau data on the ancestry of U.S. residents. The data are a bit of an amalgam of various estimates produced after the most recent census, but it allowed us to map the density of ancestral groups in interesting ways.

There are two ways in which you can view these data.

  • County density shows the percentage of a county’s population that shares the ancestry you identify. Counties in which at least 10 percent of the population shares that ancestry are shown with solid circles.
  • National density shows the percentage of the national population sharing that ancestry in a county. Places with more than 1 percent of the national population are similarly shown with solid circles.

You shouldn’t expect circles to be consistently sized between views. It’s easy to imagine that half of the population of a fairly small ancestral group might live in Chicago, for example, but that population might make up only a small percentage of the population of the city.

Show for what ancestry?

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There are some surprising distributions to be uncovered with that tool, which we’ll leave you to explore. But the unsubtle point of the tool is that the modern United States has been shaped by immigration from around the world.

Over the course of a century, a community of immigrants can go from despised to celebrated with their own national holiday. It can go from isolated, insular communities in large cities to representing a substantial portion of counties across the United States.

That, we were taught in elementary school, is the story of America.