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1980s-2000s: Anti-immigrant tide, profiling

History: Race in the U.S.A., a timeline created by the American Anthropological Association, looks at milestones in thinking and actions about race in government, science and society.
/ Source: American Anthropological Association

The U.S. experienced increased immigration from former Soviet states and Eastern Europe after the collapse of the Soviet Union in the late 1980s. But since the Immigration Reform and Control Act (IRCA) of 1986, also known as the Simpson-Mazzoli Act, U.S. immigration law and anti-immigrant sentiment has largely been focused on illegal immigration from Central America. The 1986 law was intended to reduce the large number of U.S. immigrants who were either illegal or unemployed. Employers who knowingly hire an illegal immigrant may be subject to financial and other penalities. However, the law included a one-year amnesty provision for illegal immigrants who had lived and worked in the U.S. since January 1982. The 1986 IRCA amnesty offered more than 2.7 million immigrants and others without appropriate visas the opportunity to apply for and receive legal citizenship.

With the passage of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) in 1992 and increased immigration from Central America, some states and local municipalities created legislation to discourage Mexican immigrants from settling in their communities. Many localities actively practiced discrimination against recent immigrants, especially those from Central America, by establishing ordinances that restricted day laborers from congregating and finding adequate housing, thereby limiting economic opportunities. In 2006, Congress proposed several measures designed to deal with the problem of illegal immigration and the resulting backlash. 

In 1992, race riots erupted in Los Angeles after police officers were acquitted in the beating of a black man, Rodney King, in an incident that was caught on videotape. Throughout the 1990s, blacks and Hispanics were targets of police brutality in a number of high profile cases, including Haitian American immigrant Abner Louima and Senegalese immigrant Amadou Diallo in New York City. The police practice of stopping black and Hispanic motorists led to charges of racial profiling and violations of civil rights in New Jersey and Maryland.

After the September 11, 2001, attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, Congress passed the Patriot Act in 2001 and ushered in a period of heightened scrutiny of certain ethnic groups. Muslims, Arabs and south Asians in particular were subjected to ethnic profiling.

After losing four years before, in 2005, Antonio Villaraigosa became the first Hispanic mayor of Los Angeles since 1872. The population of Los Angeles is approximately 48% Hispanic, 31% white, 11% Asian and 10% African American.

For the first time, four states in the U.S. have a majority minority population. They are California, Texas, New Mexico and Hawaii.