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Pedro Pascal and World Bank’s Ajay Banga among those named to Carnegie’s 2023 Great Immigrants list

Since 2006, the foundation has assembled an annual list of notable naturalized American citizens to celebrate the contributions immigrants make to the country and how they strengthen democracy

Pedro Pascal
Pedro Pascal on April 28, 2023, at Directors Guild of America Theatre in Los Angeles.Jordan Strauss (Jordan Strauss/Invision/AP)

World Bank President Ajay Banga, Oscar winner Ke Huy Quan, singer-songwriter Alanis Morissette and The Mandalorian star Pedro Pascal are on this year’s Great Immigrants list announced Wednesday by the Carnegie Corporation of New York. Since 2006, the foundation has assembled an annual list of notable naturalized American citizens to celebrate the contributions immigrants make to the country and how they strengthen democracy.

“These are extraordinary people,” said Dame Louise Richardson, president of Carnegie Corporation of New York and a native of Ireland who is a naturalized citizen herself. “Presenting all these amazingly positive stories of people who’ve contributed hugely to American life I think is important every year.”

However, she acknowledges that the issue of immigration has become more politicized. “I do think there is a growing sense that the numbers of migrants are somehow getting out of hand — and this is not unique to the U.S.,” Richardson told The Associated Press in an interview. “So, we are very keen to suggest looking at immigrants through a different lens.”

The 35 honorees on this year’s list hail from 33 countries on six continents and are leaders in everything from business and philanthropy to education and the arts.

Daniel Lubetzky, best known as the founder and former CEO of Kind Snacks, as well as his appearances as an entrepreneur on ABC’s Shark Tank, said he was proud to be on the list and an immigrant from Mexico.

“For me, the United States is a nation of immigrants and we need to remember that,” he said. “We need to celebrate that. And we need to contribute — every one of us — to keep that dream alive.”

Lubetzky, who sold Kind to food giant Mars for an estimated $5 billion in 2020, is working to do his part through his philanthropy. He focuses on reducing polarization through initiatives like the community-building movement Starts With Us and The Lubetzky Family Foundation’s Futures of the Free World program, which supports building democracy around the world.

“Authoritarianism and extremism are now rampant across the world, and the threats against democracy are the worst in my lifetime,” he said. “But I also have enormous conviction that it will turn around.”

Grammy-winning singer Angelique Kidjo, who fled the dictatorship in her homeland of Benin for France, said immigrants, especially those who have escaped repressive regimes, treasure the United States because they understand what is at stake.

“As imperfect as our democracy is in America, we have to work to make it better for everybody,” said Kidjo, who won the Polar Music Prize earlier this year for the global impact of her music. She said those who are willing to risk American democracy because they are angry or because of petty concerns is “insulting to the point of this country.”

“America would never have existed without immigrants,” Kidjo said.

She said she is happy to be honored as an immigrant, and now a naturalized citizen, but also feels a responsibility to use the award to make a difference.

“It’s always about trying to find and reach out to people that I can work with to advance women’s rights, human rights and our democracy,” she said.

On Monday, Republican presidential candidate Ron DeSantis unveiled his immigration plan which includes amending the U.S. Constitution to end the practice of automatically granting citizenship to those born in the United States, an idea also proposed by former President Donald Trump. “Dangling the prize of citizenship to the future offspring of illegal immigrants is a major driver of illegal migration,” the Florida governor said in his “Stop the Invasion” plan. “It is also inconsistent with the original understanding of the 14th Amendment, and we will force the courts and Congress to finally address this failed policy.”

Jeremy Robbins, executive director of the American Immigration Council, a nonprofit that works to make people more accepting of immigration, said there are currently two very different narratives about immigration in the country: “It is an opportunity to strengthen the country,” and “It is a threat.”

“We talked to many Americans, and they believe both those narratives,” Robbins said. “Most Americans believe that immigration has been great for America, but they’re nervous about the immigration that’s coming now.”

According to his group’s research, immigrants to the United States launch businesses at a higher rate than the overall population, with 3.2 million immigrant entrepreneurs generating $88.5 billion in annual income.

Author Min Jin Lee, whose novel Pachinko was a National Book Awards finalist, said she was honored to be on the Carnegie list because “it’s an honest look at America.”

“There’s this thinking that immigrants are yellow, black, and brown people from somewhere else and ‘they have all these needs,’ rather than ‘they have all these assets,’” said Lee, who emigrated from South Korea with her family when she was a child. “I think that this list is a really good reflection of our assets, what we bring to the table, and how we make the team stronger.”

Lee said that anti-immigrant political rhetoric is essentially a distraction from economic inequality and ongoing systemic racism.

“Toxic rhetoric against immigrants really forgets the entire history of America, which is that without immigrants, we have nothing,” she said. “I’m really grateful that the Carnegie Corporation of New York is bringing back the centrality of immigration as a force for good in the United States.”

Robbins said the Carnegie list is important because compelling stories change more minds than economic data.

“Every year, Carnegie lifts up these stories,” Robbins said. “This is a person. This is their life. And it’s not just that they were successful, but America is stronger because of it. I think that is hugely powerful.”

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