"Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free." Etched at the base of the Statue of Liberty, those words reflected the spirit of the times, when between 1880 and 1930, more than 27 million people entered the US. Today we celebrate those immigrants--legions of whom fled war, poverty and oppression--for building modern America.
Many of today's immigrants also pass those same words, from Emma Lazarus' poem "The New Colossus," on a plaque in the international arrivals hall at New York's John F. Kennedy International Airport. But while foreigners continue to flock to the US, the country is undergoing one of its periodic waves of anti-immigration sentiment, with bitter political debates over who may come and who may stay.
Amid the debate, it's easy to forget how crucial immigration is to US society, as much today as in centuries past. To demonstrate, we've assembled a list of some of the living US immigrants we most admire. Some are naturalised US citizens, while others have merely chosen to settle in the US for a long stretch. Each one, though, is a significant force in his or her field, as well as an asset to their adopted country.
The list includes a governor, a senator, a former secretary of state, a general, two billionaires and one of the greatest dancers of our time. Hollywood and American sports are magnets for global talent, so the ranks of entertainment and professional sports are full of recent arrivals--too many to choose from, really, but we've included a handful of movie stars, sports stars and one rock star.
Some are often assumed to be American-born. While it's common knowledge that actor-turned-governor Arnold Schwarzenegger hails from Austria, it's less well known that sex-symbol Pamela Anderson was born in Canada, or that rock star Dave Matthews and movie star Charlize Theron both come from South Africa.
Coming to America can be daunting and difficult. The struggle to learn a new language and adapt to a new culture, all while trying to get by financially, probably looks insurmountable at times. But some of today's immigrants testify to the possibilities.
Florida's Senator Mel Martinez, who left Cuba for Florida as a teenager, told Forbes.com, "the fact that a boy at age 15 can come here with nothing, not even speaking the language of this country, and become a US Senator and chairman of a major political party is a miracle that could only happen in America."
Former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, who emigrated from a war-ravaged Czechoslovakia as a child, told us that she considered herself "the epitome of the American dream" Why? "I came here when I was 11 years old. I was able to get an incredible education, I worked hard, and I ended up as secretary of state."
These American immigrants remind us just how much of a magnet the US remains--and also just how much the country gains from open doors.