5 immigrants and refugees who changed u.s. science

5 Immigrants and Refugees Who Changed U.S. Science

(CNN)They are destitute, desperate but determined. Thousands of them flee their homes every year, risking their lives in unseaworthy boats or crammed in trucks.

Refugees struggling to find a new life in Europe have seized the world's attention. In some places, they have faced a backlash from anti-immigration groups who claim they are a drain on resources.

But history is full of examples of refugees who went on to leave lasting contributions in the realms of science, arts, politics and sports.

Here are just some of the most prominent, in their own words:

Marlene Dietrich

The cinematic icon and legendary cabaret singer rose to fame in Germany in the 1920s. She left to pursue a career in Hollywood in 1930 and watched with horror as the Nazis proceeded to seize power in her homeland. She rejected overtures from Hitler's regime to return to Germany, became an American citizen and performed for Allied troops during World War II.

Freddie Mercury

The frontman of stadium rock legends Queen was born Farrokh Bulsara in 1946, the son of an Indian Parsee couple living on the African island of Zanzibar. The family fled the bloody revolution that shook the island in 1964, moving to suburban London where the aspiring musician eventually met his future band mates.

Albert Einstein

The most important physicist of the 20th century was persecuted in Germany by the Nazis, who branded his groundbreaking theory of relativity “Jewish physics.” He left for the United States in 1933 and never returned to Germany.

Gloria Estefan

The “Queen of Latin Pop” spent the first two years of her life in Havana, Cuba. But the Communist revolution led by Fidel Castro in 1959 prompted her family to leave for Miami. Her father returned to Cuba to fight in the failed Bay of Pigs invasion in 1961. Estefan went on to sell more than 100 million albums and win seven Grammys in a dazzling pop career.

Luol Deng

Born in 1985 amid civil war in Sudan, Deng fled the fighting with his family as a young child, settling first in Egypt and later Britain. He went on to study in the United States before beginning a career in professional basketball. A two-time NBA All-Star, Deng has played for the Chicago Bulls and the Miami Heat.

Madeleine Albright

The United States' first female Secretary of State was born in 1937 in the country then known as Czechoslovakia. Her family fled the Nazis during World War II and then, after returning, were forced to leave again after the Communist takeover of 1948.

Sigmund Freud

The father of psychoanalysis, who reshaped how people all over the world thought about the workings of their own minds, became a refugee near the very end of his life. After the Nazis, who had burned Freud's books, took control of Austria in 1938, the psychologist and his wife fled Vienna for London. He died there the following year.


The 1969 coup and its bloody aftermath in Somalia prompted the family of Iman Mohamed Abdulmajid to leave in the dead of night and cross into Kenya. She was discovered there years later by a photographer, setting her on a career as a supermodel in the United States, where she has started her own cosmetics company, taken up humanitarian causes and married David Bowie.

Victor Hugo

The great French writer, best known internationally as the author of “Les Miserables,” was also an ardent political activist. He opposed Napoleon III's authoritarian rule in the mid-19th century, a stance that forced him to flee France and spend nearly two decades in exile, most of it in Guernsey in the British Channel Islands.

While his father was imprisoned with Nelson Mandela on Robben Island, Mbeki spent decades in exile from South Africa working for the struggle against apartheid. After stays in the USSR, Britain and Zimbabwe among other countries, he returned to his homeland in 1990 and succeeded Mandela as President in 1999.

Five times immigration changed the UK

By Keith Lowe Historian

5 Immigrants and Refugees Who Changed U.S. Science Image copyright Getty Images

Since the end of World War Two, immigration has transformed the UK.

After the war, fewer than one in 25 of the population had been born outside the country; today that figure is closer to one in seven.

Many moments have contributed to this transformation in net migration. Here are five key turning points.

1948: The Windrush Generation

In the aftermath of the war, the UK saw huge investment in public infrastructure. Bombed cities were rebuilt, transport systems expanded and new institutions, such as the NHS, had to be staffed.

Employment opportunities abounded, and people from all over the Commonwealth came to the UK to help fill the labour shortage.

Some of the first to arrive in 1948 were a group of 500 or so Caribbean migrants, who arrived on former troopship the Empire Windrush. Consequently, they and the 300,000 West Indians who followed them over the next 20 years, were known as the Windrush generation.

Alongside those from the Caribbean came some 300,000 people from India, 140,000 from Pakistan, and more than 170,000 from various parts of Africa.


Windrush in numbers

  • 492passengers docked in Essex on the Empire Windrush in 1948
  • 910,000 peoplefrom the West Indies, India, Pakistan and Africa followed
  • 500,000current UK residents were born in the Commonwealth pre-1971
  • 18were apologised to for being wrongfully deported or detained

Source: ONS, UK census, UK Government, BBC

Immigrants from the Republic of Ireland had the same rights, and also flocked to the UK. Between 1948 and 1971, one-third of 18 to 30-year-olds left the country in search of work, about half a million people. The overwhelming majority of them were bound for the UK.

In the 1940s and 50s, none of these people required visas; as “citizens of the United Kingdom and Colonies”, they were automatically given the right to reside in the UK.

However, the Home Office did not keep a record of those granted leave to remain. Despite living and working in the UK for decades, it emerged in 2018 that some Windrush migrants and their families had been threatened with deportation and even removed. The UK government was forced to apologise.

1956: The Hungarian Revolution

The end of World War Two also brought huge political changes in eastern and central Europe.

After liberating the region, the Soviet Union installed Communist regimes here that were deeply unpopular with many people. It also annexed the Baltic States and parts of Poland.

In reaction, hundreds of thousands of refugees fled to the West. The first to arrive in the UK were about 120,000 Poles, who arrived in 1945; the substantial Polish communities in Manchester, Bradford and west London date from this time. About 100,000 people from Ukraine and the Baltic States also came to the UK for similar reasons.

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Image copyright Getty Images Image caption Open-air portraits of the 1956 Hungarian revolution victims in Budapest

At the time, these population movements were considered the final consequences of World War Two. In fact, they were the symptom of a new Cold War.

This was confirmed in 1956, when the people of Hungary rose up against their Communist rulers. After Soviet tanks drove into Budapest to crush the uprising, almost 200,000 Hungarians fled the country.

Britain took in 30,000 of these political refugees, setting a precedent for the years to come. From 1956 onwards, political dissidents from eastern Europe were routinely accepted and integrated into British society.

Some of the data in this article is drawn from BBC Briefing, a mini-series of downloadable in-depth guides to the big issues in the news, with input from academics, researchers and journalists. It is the BBC's response to audiences demanding better explanation of the facts behind the headlines.

1971: Immigration Act

  • The post-war boom in immigration from Commonwealth countries was not welcomed by everyone.
  • In the late 1950s, racial tensions erupted in a series of riots, most famously in 1958 in Notting Hill and Nottingham.
  • And in 1968, the Conservative politician Enoch Powell spoke out against continued immigration, in his divisive “Rivers of Blood” speech.

Image copyright Getty Images Image caption Protesters at a rally against the 1971 Immigration Act

Under considerable pressure, the British government eventually cracked down on all forms of racial discrimination.

But it also introduced a series of laws limiting immigration.

The most important of these was the Immigration Act of 1971, which decreed Commonwealth immigrants did not have any more rights than those from other parts of the world. This effectively marked the end of the Windrush generation.

Science in the US is built on immigrants. Will they keep coming?

Almost as soon as he started college, Morteza Khaledi knew he wanted to be a professor. And he quickly decided that a doctoral degree from a US university was the best path to get there.

Armed with a bachelor’s degree in chemistry from Pahlavi University (now Shiraz University), in Iran, Khaledi applied to several US universities for graduate school. He was accepted to the University of Florida in 1978, and he has lived in the US ever since. Over those four decades, he rose from student to chemistry professor to, now, dean of science at the University of Texas at Arlington.

Credit: Courtesy of Morteza Khaledi

Iranian immigrant Morteza Khaledi is dean of science at the University of Texas at Arlington.

“When I was a student, the US was really dominant in science and technology areas, and I think we still have the upper hand,” he says. “But other countries have caught up.”

He worries that increased competition, amplified by the current wave of anti-immigrant rhetoric in the US, will push top international students to choose schools in Canada, Europe, Singapore, and elsewhere. “There are great talents from all over the world,” Khaledi says. “If you close the door or limit them, then it will have an impact on the research that we do.”

Much of the rest of the scientific community is worried too. With constant talk of a border wall, trade fights with China, and sanctions against Russia, immigration is at the top of many scientists’ minds worldwide.

The Donald J. Trump administration has made some changes to immigration policy. The most notable is the ban against immigrants from six countries, including Iran. Other proposals include stricter examination of Chinese students and scientific visitors, changes to the H-1B visa system for temporary workers, and work restrictions on the spouses of US visa holders.

5 Refugees Who Changed Modern American History

Around the world, people are showing support for the millions of people displaced from their home countries for World Refugee Day, which falls on Thursday, June 20. In 2017, nearly 69 million people have fled their homes to escape violence or persecution, according to the U.N.

Refugees have been coming to the United States for hundred of years, and their cultures, values, and individual contributions have profoundly shaped the nation.

The refugees have come in waves: In the late 19th century, eastern European Jews who fled the pogroms of Poland and Russia streamed across the Atlantic and soon established themselves as an integral part of American society.

After Fidel Castro’s forces took power in Cuba in 1959, hundreds of thousands of Cubans fled his communist dictatorship, settling in Florida and remaking the region’s culture.

Even the Pilgrims — among the first European settlers in North America in 1620 — could themselves be considered refugees, forced from England by religious persecution.

Many of these refugees and their children have contributed a great deal to American society. For World Refugee Day, TIME is highlighting a few refugees who have had a profound impact on American history.

Madeleine Albright

Madeleine Albright, former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations and the first female U.S. Secretary of State, was born in Prague, in what is now the Czech Republic, as the daughter of a Czech diplomat.

Though Albright was raised Catholic, she later found out that her parents had converted from Judaism. Her family fled to England when the Nazis invaded Czechoslovakia in 1939.

The family returned to Prague after World War II, but a communist coup soon made them refugees again and they traveled to the United States, settling in Denver in 1949.

Albright attended Wellesley College, and went on to get her Ph.D in public law and government from Columbia University. In 1972, Albright became a legislative assistant to Democratic Sen.

Edmund Muskie and later worked for the National Security Council during the Carter Administration.

During the Regan Administration, Albright worked in various nonprofits and became a professor of international affairs at Georgetown University.

In 1993, Albright became the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations under the Clinton Administration. During her tenure, Albright advocated “assertive multilateralism,” and worked to bolster U.S.

leadership in world politics. In 1997, Albright became the 64th Secretary of State — the first woman to ever hold that title — where she distinguished herself as a fierce advocate for democracy and human rights.

She left government service in 2001.

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Dith Pran

Dith Pran, a Pulitzer Prize-winning photojournalist and Cambodian refugee, is known for documenting the bloody Cambodian Civil War as a fixer, translator and photographer working with New York Times Southeast Asia correspondent Sydney Schanberg.

Following the fall of Phnom Penh in 1975, Schanberg fled the country while Dith was captured by the Khmer Rouge regime and sent to the countryside alongside hundreds of thousands of other Cambodians.

He faced forced labor and starvation as a part of the “Year Zero” policy that, along with the systematic killing of “enemies” of the regime, resulted in the deaths of 1.7 million Cambodians, according to the UN.

The Contributions of Immigrants to American Culture

The lives of most immigrants are a dialectic between the memories of the world left behind and the day-to-day struggles of learning the ropes of a new society. Mastering a new language, living and working among strangers, and coping with the unfamiliar are only some of the challenges faced by immigrants.

It is no wonder that nostalgia has a strong grip on the cultural pursuits of immigrants.

Immigrant communities generally find comfort in familiar religious traditions and rituals, seek out newspapers and literature from the homeland, and celebrate holidays and special occasions with traditional music, dance, cuisine, and leisure-time pursuits.

Yet not all immigrants look solely to the past to find meaning or to express their longings. Some immigrants, and their children in particular, are inspired by the possibility for innovative expression in American arts, culture, and pastimes.

The partially fictionalized biography of the popular entertainer Al Jolson captures this experience.

Jolson's story was expressed, somewhat embellished, in the 1946 Oscar-winning film The Jolson Story, and was foretold in the 1927 film The Jazz Singer, in which Jolson plays the lead role.1

Asa Yoelson, born in 1886 in Russia, immigrated to the United States as a child. He had a beautiful singing voice and was groomed to succeed his father as the cantor in a prominent synagogue. However, Asa was torn between family expectations and his desire to become a popular singer.

After some hesitation, he left home to try his fortune as a singer in vaudeville and other venues. Within a few years, Asa Yoelson–who adopted the stage name Al Jolson–achieved fame as a popular singer and stage performer. During the 1920s and 1930s, he was the most highly paid entertainer in the country.

The transition from Asa Yoelson, the dutiful son, to Al Jolson, famous entertainer, can be interpreted several ways.

The Hollywood story of Jolson's life illustrates the popular belief that America is a land of opportunity for talented and hardworking immigrants: “Where else on earth could this sort of thing happen?” Another interpretation is the clash between immigrant generations–between the immigrant parents' belief in the obligation to maintain tradition and their Americanized children's desire for broader fulfillment. Although initially disowned by his father for leaving home and breaking with tradition, Asa/Al eventually reconciled with his family.

There is an even more important, and surprising, element to the Al Jolson story.

How did an outsider, ethnically and culturally, become the cultural icon whose style set the standard for twentieth-century popular musical performance? Jolson climbed to the top of the ladder of the American entertainment industry by redefining the role and image of a public performer.

2 He brought the expressionism and style of jazz to popular audiences, his singing connected with stage and film audiences through his dramatic emotional and physical performance, and he had stage runways built so that he could perform closer to the audience.

The Jolson style did not represent assimilation, but rather the creation of a distinctive “American” genre of musical performance. Many iconic American popular singers of the twentieth century, including Bing Crosby, Tony Bennett, Judy Garland, Eddie Fisher, and Neil Diamond, report that Jolson's style was a formative influence on their careers.3

Al Jolson was not an exception. Immigrants, and especially the children and grandchildren of immigrants, have played a disproportionate role in the development of the American performing arts.

They have also made fundamental contributions in many other realms of artistic, cultural, culinary, athletic, and scientific endeavor. Immigrants and their children are not born with more ability than anyone else.

However, an immigrant (outsider) heritage may offer certain creative advantages to the miniscule fraction of persons possessing extraordinary talents.

These advantages include: a resilience and determination to succeed, a curiosity and openness to innovation born of marginality, and an attraction to high-risk pursuits (because conventional careers are less open to them).

The relative openness of American performing and cultural arts to outsiders might be explained by a variety of factors. The arrival of a very large pool of talented immigrants–some fleeing persecution, others seeking new cultural horizons–was a necessary condition. Of equal importance was the rapid growth of competitive entertainment, cultural, and scientific industries that fostered an emphasis on talent more so than pedigree.

In his book on the history of classical music in the United States, Joseph Horowitz describes the ecstatic reception of the 1893 New York premiere of Antonin Dvorak's From the New World Symphony (popularly known as the New World Symphony).

4 Dvorak was already a well-known Czech composer in 1892 when he was invited to spend a few years in the United States to direct the National Conservatory of Music and to compose “American” music. In the late nineteenth century, as perhaps even today, American classical music was rigidly Eurocentric.

Musical achievement, whether in composition or performance, was recognized only through imitation of the celebrated icons–mostly Europeans. During his short three-year tenure in the United States, Dvorak searched for authentic American voices and sounds. He found them in African American melodies and American Indian chants.

In the New World Symphony and in other works composed in America, Dvorak added melodies from black spirituals, including “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot,” and American Indian tom-tom beats inspired by reading Long-fellow's “Song of Hiawatha.

” Dvorak's fusion of indigenous American music with classical performance met with popular acclaim, and the New World Symphony has become a recognized classic.

Yet the musical establishment considered it to be a heresy, and Dvorak was labeled a “negrophile” for believing that indigenous musical traditions, particularly from the downtrodden, could be integrated with classical music. In his study of Dvorak, Horowitz argues that the controversy over the New World Symphony is part of a larger national discussion about American identity.5

Read "The Integration of Immigrants into American Society" at NAP.edu

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Suggested Citation:“1 Introduction.” National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2015. The Integration of Immigrants into American Society. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/21746.

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The United States is a country that has been populated, built, and transformed by successive waves of migration from almost every part of the world.

This reality is widely recognized in the familiar image of the United States as a “nation of immigrants” and by the great majority of Americans, who fondly trace their family histories to Asia, Africa, or Europe or to a mix of origins that often includes an ancestry from one or more of the many indigenous peoples of the Americas. The American national mosaic is one of long standing. In the 18th century, Jean de Crèvecoeur (1981 [1782]) observed that in America, “individuals of all nations are melted into a new race of men.” More than two centuries later, the American experiment of E Pluribus Unum continues with one of the most generous immigration policies in the world, one that includes provisions for diversity, refugees, family reunification, and workers who bring scarce employment skills. The United States is home to almost one-fifth of the world’s international migrants, including 23 million who arrived from 1990 to 2013 (United Nations Population Division, 2013). This figure (23 million net immigrants) is three times larger than the number of immigrants received by any other country during that period.

The successful integration of immigrants and their children contributes to the nation’s economic vitality and its vibrant and ever-changing culture.

The United States has offered opportunities to immigrants and their children to better themselves and to be fully incorporated into this society; in exchange “immigrants” have become “Americans”—embracing an American identity and citizenship, protecting the United States through service in

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Suggested Citation:“1 Introduction.” National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2015. The Integration of Immigrants into American Society. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/21746.


its military, building its cities, harvesting its crops, and enriching everything from the nation’s cuisine to its universities, music, and art.

This has not always been a smooth process, and Americans have sometimes failed to live up to ideals of full inclusion and equality of opportunity for immigrants. Many descendants of immigrants who are fully integrated into U.S.

society remember the success of their immigrant parents and grandparents but forget the resistance they encountered—the riots where Italians were killed, the branding of the Irish as criminals who were taken away in “paddy wagons,” the anti-Semitism that targeted Jewish immigrants, the racist denial of citizenship to Chinese immigrants, and the shameful internment of Japanese American citizens. This historical amnesia contributes to the tendency to celebrate the nation’s success in integrating past immigrants and to worry that somehow the most recent immigrants will not integrate and instead pose a threat to American society and civic life.

2015 was the 50th anniversary of the passage in 1965 of the Hart Celler Act, which amended the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952 (INA) and began the most recent period of mass immigration to the United States.

These amendments abolished the restrictive quota system of the 1920s and opened up legal immigration to all countries in the world, setting the stage for a dramatic increase in immigration from Asia and Africa.

At the same time, they limited the numbers of legal immigrants permitted from countries in the Western Hemisphere, establishing restrictions on immigrants across the U.S. southern border and setting the stage for the rise in undocumented border crossers.

Today, the approximately 41 million immigrants in the United States represent 13.1 percent of the U.S. population, which is slightly lower than it was 100 years ago. An estimated 11.3 million of these immigrants—over 25 percent—are undocumented.

The U.S.-born children of immigrants, the second generation (see Box 1-1), represent another 37.1 million people, 12 percent of the population. Together, the first and second generations account for one of every four members of the U.S. population.

The numbers of immigrants coming to the United States, the racial and ethnic diversity of new immigrants, and the complex and politically fraught issue of undocumented immigrants have raised questions about whether the nation is being as successful in absorbing current immigrants and their descendants as it has been in the past. Are new immigrants and their children being well integrated into American society? Do current policies and practices facilitate their integration? How is American society being transformed by the millions of immigrants who have arrived in recent decades?

To address these issues, the Panel on the Integration of Immigrants into American Society was tasked with responding to the following questions:

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Suggested Citation:“1 Introduction.” National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2015. The Integration of Immigrants into American Society. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/21746.


This report follows the standard scholarly definition of “generation.” The first generation are the foreign-born (the immigrants), the second generation are the U.S.-born (native-born) children of immigrants, and the third generation are the grandchildren of the immigrants.

Scholars also make a distinction for immigrants who come as children as the 1.5 generation (Waters, 2014).1 Using these generational designations, one can see that the major ethnic and racial groups in the United States vary a great deal by generation.

In 2014, 90 percent of whites were third generation or higher, 4 percent were first generation, and 6 percent were second generation. Blacks were 10 percent first generation, 6 percent second, and 85 percent third generation or higher. Hispanics are very heterogeneous with regard to generation. In 2014, one-third were long-time U.S.

residents with at least three generations of residence in the United States; another third were the children of immigrants (although many of them were adult children, since immigration from Latin America has been ongoing throughout the 20th and 21st centuries), and another third were foreign-born.

Asians are the ethnoracial category most heavily influenced by recent immigration, with only 1 in 10 being third generation or higher in 2014, while almost two-thirds were foreign-born and almost one-third were second generation.

1Portes and Rumbaut (2006) formally defines the 1.5 generation as those who immigrated between the ages of 6 and 12; using the term 1.75 to apply to those who came from infancy to age 5, and the 1.

25 generation to be from ages 13-18. In practice, researchers use different age cut-offs for the 1.5 generation, often lumping together children who arrived up to age 12 as the 1.

5 generation (Portes and Rumbaut, 2001).

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