There are, at last count, 46 million immigrants in the United States; America sits just above Germany and Russia as the country with the highest number of immigrants in the world. The U.S. was historically dubbed as the ‘dream’ for foreign nationals, originally billed as a modern Utopia, the land of the free founded by immigrants themselves on the ideals of Capitalism. Nowadays, the U.S. is saturated with immigrants, and the Government are, very publically, attempting to slow the rate of immigration into the economically unstable country. But America’s immigrants have consistently made an important impact on the country’s economy: its infrastructure, its academic history and even some the biggest businesses in the U.S. have an immigrant population to thank. If the founding fathers had kept it in the family, America wouldn’t be the superpower we know today.
According to statistics published by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, the largest proportion of these immigrants are employed in Wholesale and Retail trade – with 13.5% of all immigrants working in this industry – closely followed by a full 12.6% of immigrants holding down jobs in Mining, Manufacturing and Energy. On average, an immigrant household contributes $11,385 in taxes and social security benefits. In recent years, immigration trends have been changing in America; the majority of immigrants to the U.S. in the last decade have been coming from Mexico, China and India – neither Europe nor Canada feature among the top 15 countries contributing to America’s immigrant population.
Immigration has always been a contentious issue, with extremes on either side; some claiming that immigrant populations cause cultural divisions, ghettoisation, and an economic strain on the host country – while others hold that immigrants enrich the country, the culture and the economy in a positive way. According to the numbers from the OECD, it’s clear that America’s immigrants are certainly contributing to the economy. What else have foreigners brought to the US? Who are the true success stories, those optimistic voyagers who pursued the American Dream and got it – or even made it what it is? To get an idea of what a truly intercultural ethos brought to America, we’ve rounded up some of the most influential people in the U.S. who came from immigrant families.
5. Natalie Portman : Israel
America’s sweetheart, the toast of Hollywood was born in Jerusalem, to an Israeli father and an American mother of Jewish ancestry. Although she moved to the U.S. at three years old and holds dual citizenship, Natalie Portman says her heart belongs in Jerusalem. The young star made her Hollywood debut in the mid-90s, with her breakthrough role in 1997’s Star Wars movie, The Phantom Menace. Aside from her acting chops, Portman is an academic and activist, graduating from Harvard with a degree in psychology. Portman is an influential democratic, using her status to publicly support Obama in his election campaigns and supporting a petition for same-sex marriage in the US. Portman’s also a high-profile animals rights supporter and vegan. In keeping with her multi-cultural background, Portman is married to Frenchman Benjamin Millepied.
4. Arnold Schwarzenegger: Austria
The Governor of California is perhaps the embodiment of the wide-eyed optimistic young man, landing in America with full faith in the Land of the Free. The young Austrian arrived in America with broken English in the 1960s, already well on his way to becoming a high profile body builder on the international stage. Determined not to become a fly-by-night Hollywod drop-in, though, Schwarzenegger earned his university degree at University of Wisconsin and was granted full American citizenship in the early 1980s. He went on to become a movie star, a body building legend and later a politician and a family man. After marrying into the Kennedy dynasty, Schwarzenegger had four gorgeous all-American kids and, in 2003, he became the Governor of California. A true story of the American Dream gone right.
3. John F Kennedy: Ireland
The 35th president of the United States, Democrat John F Kennedy, can trace his roots to Wexford, Ireland. Born in 1917, all four of JFK’s grandparents were children of Irish citizens who had emigrated to America during the Great Famine in Ireland. While over 10% of all Americans can claim Irish heritage, the Kennedys are certainly one of the most recognizable Irish American families in the world; indeed, the Kennedy dynasty has become a leading political and philanthropic force in the United States. JFK’s presidency between ’61 and ’63’ was cut short by his tragic assassination, but he left a legacy. During his time in office he oversaw the advancement of Project Apollo – which would lead to the first moon landing. Kennedy holds the distinctions of being the only Catholic president to date, and the only president to win a Pulitzer prize.
2. Steve Jobs: Syria
The man responsible for changing the game of modern technology as the co-founder of American multinational, Apple Inc., Steve Jobs was born to a Syrian father and a Swiss-American mother in 1955. He was adopted by an American-Armenian family, and grew up in California. Jobs founded Apple in the late 1970s – the company has gone on to become one of the top three I.T. companies and mobile phone manufacturers internationally and is now one of the most recognizable, profitable brands in the world. Thanks in no small part to Jobs’ creative genius, Apple has this year been named the world’s most valuable brand. Jobs was also a driving force in the development of Pixar Animation Studios. In a world of what-ifs, it’s hard to imagine what America – or the world at large – would look like if Jobs’ father Abdulfattah “John” Jandali hadn’t made his home in the United States all those years ago.
1. Barack Obama: Kenya
The current American president, Obama was born to Barak Obama Sr. – a Kenyan immigrant – and Stanley Ann Durham, whose roots trace back to the UK and Ireland. Obama is also the only U.S president to be born in Hawaii. Columbia and Harvard educated, Democrat Obama began his career in politics in the early 90s when he directed Project Vote in Illinois. He was elected to the State Senate in ’96, and in 2008 he made history when he was elected President of the United States, the first black American president in the history of democracy. Obama was re-elected in 2011 and, like most presidents, his time in office has been marked by controversy. One of the most high-profile of Obama’ policies is the revolutionary ‘Obama Care’ initiative – officially known as the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act – is the first step America have made towards a more state-aided health care system, aiming to expand health insurance for both public and private cover and reduce health care costs on a national level.
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