Art Acevedo and Ana Mari Cauce are both originally from Cuba. He’s now the chief of police in Houston, while she’s president of the University of Washington. Joachim Frank is from Germany and Shuji Nakamura from Japan, but both now live in the U.S. and are Nobel Prize winners. Each person is an immigrant who left their native country and eventually became a naturalized U.S. citizen. There’s also Mona Hanna-Attisha (England), the doctor who helped show that there was lead-poisoned water in Flint, Michigan. Salud Carbajal (Mexico) and Pramila Jayapal (India) are both U.S. Congress members. Kumail Nanjiani (Pakistan) is a famous actor and screenwriter.
The Carnegie Corporation of New York will honor all of these people and many more this summer by including them among among its annual list of Great Immigrants, an effort to celebrate the diversity that truly makes America great, and recognize that when people come here, they generally improve not only their life chances, but society as a whole.
In total, there are 38 honorees from 29 different countries this year, joining a class of over 500 inductees since the effort started in 2006. Each announcement happens around Independence Day, which ties into the Carnegie Corporation’s original goal. Research from the Immigrant Legal Research Center shows that people who become naturalized gain more financial and social empowerment: They’re more likely to make more money, own homes, and stay employed after gaining citizenship. Plus, they’re generally eligible for more kinds of scholarships and public jobs that can advance and stabilize their careers.
That trend holds true when naturalized citizens are compared directly to non-citizens, a group that includes people with green cards, temporary or foreign work visas, as well as undocumented immigrants and those granted asylum, according to data from the Migrant Policy Institute.
Another real benefit is being able to vote, which gives otherwise marginalized people a change to express their views, and America a chance to actually be representative of everyone who lives here. That’s a fundamental truth the group’s late and eponymous founder, impoverished Scottish immigrant turned steel tycoon Andrew Carnegie, has always supported.
“We have produced the Great Immigrants initiative for the past 13 years as a way of educating Americans about the role of immigrants and refugees: They did not come here to be a burden but to advance themselves and create opportunities for others,” says Carnegie Corporation’s Vartan Gregorian, who is originally from Armenia, in an email to Fast Company. According to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services data, more than 7.4 million people have become naturalized within the last decade, with the average between 700,000 and 750,000 joining annually in recent years.
The Trump Administration, of course, continues to counter this logic by promoting the false idea the people who come to the United States (even legally) to seek more freedom, opportunity, and refuge may ultimately intend only to cause harm. Naturalization for those who are eligible is a good way to combat those bogus fears. “Becoming a citizen is a social, political, and psychological act that shows you have faith in our democracy and understand your obligation to make sacrifices for the common good,” Gregorian says. “We want to remind people that immigration has helped to build America, not weaken it. We are benefitting from the talent of other nations.”