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America's Financial Success Owes a Lot to Immigrants

Silicon Valley leaders spoke out this weekend, pointing out that America’s technological growth would never have happened without immigrants.
Image: Elon Musk listens to President Donald Trump during a meeting with business leaders
SpaceX CEO Elon Musk listens to President Donald Trump speaks during a meeting with business leaders in the Roosevelt Room at the White House in Washington, on Jan. 23, 2017.Nicholas Kamm / AFP - Getty Images

The tech industry has been the loudest in its condemnation of Donald Trump’s travel ban, but the history of immigrants coming to the United States and becoming pillars of industry goes back further than the iPhone, further than dial-up — further, even, than the telephone itself.

Silicon Valley leaders spoke out en masse over the weekend, pointing out that America’s technological growth would never have happened without immigrant entrepreneurs.

Some of the stories are familiar: Many people know Steve Jobs’ biological father was a native Syrian (Jobs was adopted as an infant by a California family), and that Google co-founder Sergey Brin’s Jewish parents left Russia in 1979 to escape religious persecution.

Even two technology scions who reportedly have Donald Trump’s ear, Tesla founder Elon Musk and billionaire investor Peter Thiel, were born in other countries (South Africa and Germany, respectively).

But people might be less familiar with others: “My mother was undocumented. No mom, no @Reddit,” Reddit cofounder Alexis Ohanian tweeted on Sunday.

Intel co-founder Andy Grove came to the U.S. after fleeing political upheaval in Hungary as a young man. In his memoir, he wrote, “[M]any young people were killed; countless others were interned. Some two hundred thousand Hungarians escaped to the West. I was one of them.”

Last March, the National Foundation for American policy found that immigrants founded 44 of the 87 start-up “unicorns” valued at $1 billion or higher. Altogether, the value of those companies is $168 billion.

On average, each of these billion-dollar start-ups has created 700 jobs, although some are much higher, such as Musk’s 4,000 SpaceX employees.

Musk, a member of two advisory councils in the Trump administration, on Saturday tweeted his distaste for the immigration plan.

He also said he would speak to the president about the possibility of modifying the measure — but noted there was "no possibility of retraction."

According to a 2011 analysis conducted by the Partnership for a New American Economy, 18 of the companies in Fortune’s Top 100 in 2010 had founders born outside the U.S., and that doesn’t even count the ones like Apple that were founded by first-generation Americans. In total, 40 percent of the 2010 Fortune 500 were founded by either immigrants or children of immigrants.

Today, the number of immigrant-founded companies on the Fortune 100 is up to 19, and runs the gamut of industries, from pharmaceuticals to telecommunications to retail.

“We must do more to welcome the next generation of entrepreneurs,” the group said in its report. “For years, America has loomed largest in the minds of the most enterprising individuals around the world. But as the global marketplace evolves, we cannot count on remaining their top choice.”

These are the companies, along with their rankings in the current Fortune 100, that were founded by immigrants.

10: AT&T

Alexander Graham Bell, Scotland

11: General Electric

Elihu Thomson, England

12: AmerisourceBergen

Lucien Brunswig, France

13: Verizon

Alexander Graham Bell, Scotland

34: Procter & Gamble

William Procter, England; James Gamble, Ireland

36: Alphabet

Sergey Brin, Russia

37: Comcast

Daniel Aaron, Germany

45: United Technologies

Igor Sikorski, Russia

51: Intel

Andy Grove, Hungary

55: Pfizer

Charles Pfizer and Charles Erhart, Germany

64: Ingram Micro

Geza Czige, Hungary

72: Merck

Theodore Weicker, Germany

75: Honeywell International

Albert Butz, Switzerland

79: Cigna

John Nesbitt, Ireland

82: TIAA

Andrew Carnegie, Scotland

83: INTL FCStone

Saul Stone, Russia

88: General Dynamics

John Philip Holland, Ireland

89: TJX Companies

Max Feldberg and Morris Feldberg, Russia

95: Exelon

Samuel Insull, England