tion, and cultural attributes (Auster, 1992; Brimelow, 1995; Fukuyama, 1993). What is more rarely asked is the alternative question: What have immigrants contributed to American society? Even to pose to the question requires a shift of perspective.

It is not possible to provide a full accounting to this question, in large part because data on the participation and contributions of immigrants and their children in most spheres of American society are simply not available. Immigrants and their descendants may have effects on many institutions that are outside the scope of this report's inquiry. Immigrants affect the quality of American schools, the range and growth of churches in a community, and the interests and views in the local political arena. We limit our attention here, however, and do not examine these important possible repercussions of immigration. Rather, our approach is to present some illustrative information on the roles of immigrants in the development of science, art, and other valued fields in America. Pointing to celebrated cases does show that immigrants have added considerably to the vitality and the richness of our country, but other observers may point to some of the perceived social problems exacerbated by large numbers of immigrants. Therefore, in the next section of the chapter, we examine evidence on the effect of immigration on crime and interethnic tensions in America.

Immigrants in the Sciences and Arts

The United States is acknowledged as a world leader in an extraordinary range of fields of endeavor, from science to sports. The question is what part immigration has played and continues to play in this pursuit of excellence. Of course, since almost all Americans are the descendants of immigrants, the assessment of the contributions due to immigration requires some definition. Our method is to measure the representation of immigrants and the children of immigrants in the top ranks of Americans in diverse fields: American winners of Nobel prizes, recipients of Kennedy Center honors, Olympic medalists, and esteemed scientists and other professionals requiring great talent and dedication.

People with exceptional talent may find it easier to gain admission into the United States. So the overrepresentation of immigrants among the extremely talented is, in part, an indication that U.S. immigration admission permits their entry. But the presence of talented immigrants may indicate two other mechanisms. One is that the United States is an attractive place of settlement for world-class scientists, artists, and athletes. The second is the benefit that the United States gains by having this very talented group of individuals settle in this country.

Standard data sources, including most biographical references, rarely report all the information necessary to record the numbers of immigrants among prize-winners or selected professions. Place of birth (and sometimes citizenship) is usually available, but details about the person's naturalization and the nativity of

The National Academies | 500 Fifth St. N.W. | Washington, D.C. 20001
Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
Terms of Use and Privacy Statement