When most people picture the arrival of immigrants in the United States, they might think of a ship arriving in New York, the sight of the Statue of Liberty in the distance, and eventually processing through Ellis Island. Although that may have been the case over a century ago, today, the vast majority of immigrants arrive by a very different form of transportation.
Once an exclusive and limited form of travel, flying has since become the primary source of immigration—both legal and illegal—into the U.S. a little more than half a century since its inception. Contrary to popular belief, the majority of the people in the country without proper documentation, didn’t cross the Mexican border.
Which brings us to today, Pan American Aviation Day, a United States Federal Observance Day that commemorates the first successful flight of a mechanically propelled heavier-than-air craft, accomplished on December 17, 1903, by the Wright brothers near Kitty Hawk, North Carolina.
It is hard to underestimate the massive contribution aviation has had on American immigration. As of 2018, the U.S. foreign-born population reached a record 44.8 million people. Most of them can thank the power of aviation for making that journey possible. As immigration continues to shape this nation and the world, aviation is likely to remain the primary enabler of that change for the foreseeable future.