Immigration Makes America Great at Rio Olympics, Boosts Economy Back Home Too

There are 48 foreign-born athletes on Team USA in the Summer Olympics, including one that already won a medal.



The last time Enkelejda Shehaj competed at the Olympic Games, she was representing Albania.

That was in 1996. Three years later, with the government of her home nation collapsing and fearing for her family's safety, Shehaj flew to the United States with two suitcases: "One with my clothes," she told NBC Sports. "And one luggage, it sits there in my closet with all my medals, magazines, articles that were written about me and all the diplomas and everything that had related to the sport. That's it."

Shehaj completed the complicated process to become a U.S. citizen in 2012 and this week she's back at the Olympics, competing as a member of the U.S. team in Rio de Janerio.

Her story is one of the more dramatic ones, but Shehaj is far from being the only immigrant competing for the Stars and Stripes at this year's Summer Olympics. According to research from Alex Nowrasteh, an immigration policy analyst for the Cato Institute, there are 48 members of the Team USA who were born in other countries.

Edward King is another foreign-born Olympian, but this isn't the first time he's proudly represented his adopted homeland—though he was born in South Africa, he's been an officer in the U.S. Navy since 2011. King finished 10th this week as a member of the men's lightweight four rowing team.

Phillip Dutton made a bit of Olympic history this week. The Australian-born equestrian rider became the oldest American, at age 52, to win an Olympic medal when he claimed the bronze in individual eventing—a sport that combines three different horseback riding skills. Like Shehaj, Dutton had previously competed in the Olympics for his birth country before immigrating to the United States and becoming a U.S. citizen.

There's also Danell Leyva, the Cuban-born gymnast who gave maybe the best sound bite of the Olympics when asked about the number of condoms in Rio's Olympic Village. (There are reportedly 450,000 condoms available. "Will that be enough?" was the question. His reply: "For me?").

All told, there are 554 Americans competing at this year's Summer Olympics—the largest contingent from any single country. With 48 immigrants among them, that means 8.5 percent of Team USA was born in another country. That means immigrants are actually underrepresented, since they make up 13.3 percent of the U.S. population, Nowrasteh notes. The largest plurality of foreign-born American Olympians (11 of them) are competing in the track and field events, which got underway on Friday afternoon.

There's no accurate way to count the number of U.S. Olympians who are the children of immigrants, but that number would presumably be much larger.

The United States' foreign-born Olympians come from all over the world. The 48 competitors were born in 30 different counties on six different continents. Their reasons for coming to the U.S. are probably as diverse as those of any other set of immigrants to this country, but as highly skilled athletes they do have an advantage over other immigrants because they often qualify for EB-1 visas reserved for immigrants "of extraordinary ability in the arts, science, education, business, or athletics."

It makes sense to give some people a "fast lane" to becoming U.S. citizens if they have important skills—yes, you could argue about whether Olympic sports should count as important skills, but sports-based-nationalism isn't going away anytime soon so that's not going to change. If you're not an Olympic-caliber athlete, though, navigating the immigration process can be virtually impossible.

That's a shame, because immigrants make the country better off, and not just at the Olympic Games.

Despite the political rhetoric coming from portions of both major parties, immigration actually stimulates the American economy and generates more business. Rather than displacing native-born workers, both high-skilled and low-skilled immigrants complement and enhance the work force, according to research from the Manhattan Institute.

Shikha Dalmia, in the August edition of Reason, points out that globalization (and the immigration that comes with it) in the past few decades has helped America's middle class achieve a higher level of prosperity. Expensive wars and government-run entitlement schemes have done the most damage to the economy, not immigrants.

In short, you shouldn't have to be able to do the high jump or hurdle your way through years of red tape to get a visa or become an American citizen.

NEXT: Thank God Nobody Died From This Texas Woman's Illegal Tamales

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. So basically, if it weren’t for the foreigner born, the USA would suck at the Olympics? I don’t get the point of this article.

    1. China and Japan seem to do OK, and most of their athletes seem to be locals.

      1. So, it’s only Murikans that are so lame that their own native population cannot compete? Well, you know they do say that we Murikans are fat and lazy. Probably is best we important some starving Ethiopians who will run for food.

        1. just as Ernest said I didn’t even know that a stay at home mom able to make $7k in a few weeks on the computer . look at more info >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>> http://sha.howdays.com/

    2. That’s a shame, because immigrants make the country better off, and not just at the Olympic Games.

      1. Mexican ass sex and more orphan slaves?

        1. It’s also made pretty explicit in the headline. I can only assume you’ve either suffered some kind of traumatic brain injury or are being deliberately obtuse.

          1. I hate hummus too.

            1. Ah, Phineas Gage syndrome it is. I’ll visit when they put your skull on display at the Royal Society.

              1. Your dad is a weasel and your mum smells of hamster berries.

                1. “Your mother was a hamster and your father smelled of elderberries!”


                  1. Something about berries and hamsters. I was close! And in the case of Hugh, it is HAMSTER BERRIES!

      2. That’s a shame, because immigrants make the country better off,

        This would be uncontrovertibly true, with the addition of a single word:

        That’s a shame, because many immigrants make the country better off,

        Throwing every immigrant into the bad bucket, or the good bucket, is equally collectivizing and equally Not Helpful to coming up with a rational immigration policy.

        Pretending that a 20 year old illiterate goat herder from Kazakhstan passing as a 16 year old Syrian refugee is indistinguishable from a transplant surgeon from India is simply foolish

        1. “Pretending that a 20 year old illiterate goat herder from Kazakhstan passing as a 16 year old Syrian refugee is indistinguishable from a transplant surgeon from India is simply foolish.”

          As is the claim that ” navigating the immigration process can be virtually impossible.”
          More than A MILLION are accepted into the US as new citizens and “green card” holders, each year.
          Sounds like it isn’t so “virtually impossible” for them.

          1. Well, they did say “virtually”….. So no matter your argument you lose. 🙂

        2. So, the guy who takes care of my yards is an Olympian?

    3. There is no point. 1 of 48. Not even 1 of (the total number of US Olympians). So ……

    4. Started working at home! It is by far the best job I have ever had. I just recently purchased a Brand new BMW since getting a check for 25470 dollar this 7-week past. I began this 6 months ago and I am now bringing home at least 97 dollar per hour. I work through this website. Go here… http://bit.do/OpL0a

  2. Unless his horse was also 52, Mr. Dutton is NOT the oldest Olympic medalist.

    1. This. Riding a horse isn’t a sport to begin with.

  3. OT: I just got home from work. I was just wondering if there’s been any Trump articles today?

  4. These are jobs Americans don’t want.

    1. Except for maybe Michael Phelps, he’s a freak of nature. Most Americans will not even walk somewhere, let alone run to get food. EBT cards come with a free huvaround I hear.

    2. Such a fascinating argument isn’t it? The people coming from Mexico doing the jobs nobody else will do. Yet somehow, those jobs got done before immigration from Mexico became a thing.

      1. That was before the avg low income Murikan weighed 400 lbs. Have you ever seen a 400 lb person trying to pick tomatoes? I tell you, it’s not a pretty picture.

        1. Like a walrus flossing!

      2. Immigration from Mexico became a thing long before we were a country.

        1. If there’s one thing worse than illegal Messicans, it’s pre-illegal Messicans!

        2. Immigration from Mexico exploded in recent decades. But yes, there were more than 0 Mexicans here before 1960.

        3. It wasn’t a very positive development for the native population back then, either.

        4. I assume you mean Pre-Mexican immigration to the US, right? Or do you think “Mexico” existed before the US? Hell, even the normally worthless Wikipedia recognizes it was the 1800s that Mexico became Mexico and and that prior to that it was the oppression and imperialism by the Spanish (mostly, and Fuck You, French!) that subdued the “native” (the original “immigrants”) peoples of the area that created “Mexico”.


      3. Hell, a lot of those jobs are jobs even Mexicans don’t do any more. That’s why our illegal immigrant problem has gone from being mainly a Mexican thing to mainly a Central American thing.

        Its a fast-moving world. You need to keep your bigotry up-to-date.

        1. Pointing out that jobs got done before Mexicans did them is bigotry?

          Mexicans have eyebrows. I’m such a racist!

          1. Chill. J. Have your joke-o-meter calibrated.

        2. No, most (by far) immigrants in the US that have come since 1965 are in fact Mexican Nationals. No two ways about it.

          1. And if not, then why do Mexicans oppose the “wall” so much, at once saying it won’t work and opposing it? Hmmmmm…. Methinks some doth protest too much.

      4. When the US won the Mexican-American War, the US picked up about 78,000 Mexican citizens who became US citizens and that population, plus immigrants, grew to large enough that during the Great Depression between 0.5 and 2 million Mexicans and Americans of Mexican descendent were deported in the Mexican Repatriation in the belief that if the Mexicans weren’t here, out of work Americans (or rather white Americans) would be able to get a job. This ended with WWII.

        To make up for the labor shortage due to the war, the US instituted the Bracero Program which lasted until 1964 and brought over thousands of Mexicans to work in the US.

        During this time when immigration from other countries was limited by quotas, the quotas didn’t apply to Mexicans so they freely sojourned in the US. If the Border Patrol caught a Mexican crossing the border illegally then, they’d send them back to Mexico and tell them to cross at an official crossing (and pay a fee).

      5. Yet somehow, those jobs got done before immigration from Mexico became a thing.

        Of course they did. By the Irish and the Italians and the Czechs and the English and the…

        1. .. Americans… There, finished that for you.

      6. That was before the welfare state became the major competition for those workers.
        Why do any back-breaking work, when Uncle Stupid will pay you much more to do nothing?

  5. Open the borders because… Olympics!

    1. And Division Of Labor! And Specialization! And increased productivity!

  6. Phil Dalhausser was born in Switzerland, and is a former gold medalist. He has a real chance at another.

    He is also a friend and former teammate, and one of the nicest people I’ve ever known.

    1. White guy? Wrong kind of furener, shall not be spoken of more.

    2. You’re a beach volleyballer?

      This place is getting way too cool for me.

      1. He wore a frilly pink thing.

        He was before his time.

        1. I loled

    1. You’re a towel!

  7. Until I can find plenty of mexicans to mow my lawn in the summer and shovel my driveway in winter, we don’t got enough immigrants.

    1. Where do you live? Do you need I ship you some?

      1. Around here you can’t throw a trowel without hitting a couple.

        1. Here, you just step outside and yell something in Spanish about work and dollars and 20 guys named Juan or Jorge will show up within seconds.

          1. In my experience, most are called Jes?s or Jos? Mar?a.

            1. You can your new fangled names.

              1. ‘and’

          2. Hyperion picks up some Mexicans.

            1. Dude, my wife made me stop picking up Mexicans.

              1. My chiropractor did the same. Stocky little bastards. Kept throwing my back out.

        1. Corn fed wiminz. I have a good friend lives just south of Iowa City.

      2. Apparently the DHS will ship them pretty much ANYWHERE for free.

  8. This is why the EU must stay together, because no one ever crossed any borders before 2002.

    1. This is why the EU must stay together, because no one ever crossed any borders before 2002 otherwise we’ll end up with lots of unemployed Eurocrats who will all be on welfare because they have no skills.

  9. It’s also my understanding that in the running sports, the USA would never win another marathon if we didn’t keep Kenyan migration wide… WIDE open.

    1. Best part is, we don’t even need to provide them with sneakers! Many run barefoot!

  10. Ues but those were ‘legal’ immigrants which are good. Illegal immigrants are ‘bad’ because, you know, government gets to define reality and not logic, or reason.

    1. They also get to define what tobacco is, so there’s that.

    2. Yep totally. Illegal immigrants are only bad because government says they are, no other factors or possibilities to consider.

    3. No, uncontrolled immigration when you have a Welfare state, is NOT good. If Mexicans are illegally crossing the borders with tons of gold to help the US pay it’s massive debt, then great! Viva La Mexico! Yeah!

      But UNTIL then, no thanks. If Mexicans want more money, let’s tell them to attack the families that run Mexico and take the money from them. Mexico is not a poor country. The richest shit in the world IS a Mexican. Go tell him he owes you something.

      We are fed up. We attacked Mexico all the way to Mexico City in the past, and we had no idea how to do it then, we can do it again, and the price of cessation of hostilities has gone up. We do now how to wipe out a country today, And we can do it if we have to. Pussy politicos notwithstanding. Guess what, the pancho has come off and we see Mexico for what it is.

      1. “know” vs “now” though “now know” would apply.

  11. What do you call two Mexicans playing basketball?

    1. Juan on Juan.

      1. + 1 taco

    2. what do you call for Mexican trapped in quicksand?

      Cuatro Cinco

  12. “There are 48 foreign-born athletes on Team USA in the Summer Olympics, including one that already won a medal.”

    I bet you guys didn’t know that foreigners could win medals.

    Well they can!

    And now we know.

    Also, black people can make wine.


    I bet you didn’t know that either–you bunch of racists.

    1. Also, black people can make wine

      Now you’re going too far.

      1. We have heard BPW for decades… (Thanks Hill and the DNC for the setup!)

    2. Yes, but he looks like a hipster which almost negates being black.

      1. My god, the labels on the wine bottle. Just too precious.

    3. 48 to 1 so far? Wow! We just need a few hundred million more to equal what we have already done! Diversity: Definition – less “white” people (not Hispanic), because.

  13. As a follower of soccer/rugby I’ve noticed that loads of players use dual-citizenship loopholes for the sake of grabbing a spot on another (weaker) nation’s international side (e.g. a person with German/American citizenships decides to become American simply because the USMNT is light-years easier to make than the German Fussball Ubermenschenbund). Doesn’t keep me up at night but somehow it just doesn’t feel right to me when half of our squads are made up of people who have lived their entire lives in Berlin/Munich/whatever.

    1. What’s even worse, is the number of African and South American kids that have falsified birth dates competing in youth sports multiple years below their actual age so they can be identified by scouts and get scolarships and draft options.

  14. So….the premise is that because we have a number of foreign born, yet legal US citizens, competing at the Olympics, we have to open our borders to as many uneducated, third worlders as can walk across the border?

    did I get that right?

    1. You forgot to mention that one of them won a medal, you racist.

  15. So just why are there seemingly a jillion medals for swimming? Every conceivable stroke for every conceivable distance is awarded a medal. I’m surprised there isn’t a medal for duck paddling or floating. Yet there is one medal for basketball. How about giving those players more opportunities: best left handed free throw, best jumper for three points, most athletic dunk, best two on two half court game, etc.? Same for golf: more accurate putter from 20 ft., longest drive within 2 ft. of the center line of fairway, closest to the pin from 100 yards with a wedge.
    Oh, yeah, Get off my lawn.

    1. Swimming does seem to have an order of magnitude more medal opportunities than other sports. Are there individual medals in gymnastics? Floor, vault, uneven parallel bars?

    2. the silliest is for the jump rope competition. the only people in the audience are their coachs

  16. We are one of the few countries with teams that are made up of all sorts of ethnicities and backgrounds. It’s incredible and I love it!

  17. You mean the government run entitlements that immigrants vote for? Those entitlements?

  18. I totally agree with this article. Immigrants definitely make America a better place, and better in the Olympics.

    The article is referring to LEGAL immigrants, of course. Lest we conflate the 2.

  19. Letting talented people enter the country is a good strategy. But not opening the borders for everyone.

  20. “The Australian-born equestrian rider became the oldest American, at age 52, to win an Olympic medal when he claimed the bronze in individual eventing?a sport that combines…”

    Equestrian is NOT a sport.

    1. it may be for the horse but they don’t get any recognition however the wining horse does get stud service which may be batter than a medal

  21. …and how many of them were Illegal….

    I know of no American who is against Immigration but I know a lot of them that have a problem with people cheating the system and sneaking in across the border because they can….

    We want law abiding citizens not people that cheat and break the law..

  22. Just for the record, since it somehow got left out of the article, Enkelejda Shehaj competed in Women’s 25m pistol and Women’s 10m air pistol.
    Be still, my heart.

  23. At least some countries are sending us their best people.

  24. That’s a shame, because immigrants make the country better off, and not just at the Olympic Games.

    I’m generally pro-immigration, but this sort of reasoning is idiotic bullshit and won’t convince anybody. Furthermore, perhaps you don’t realize it, but many people consider the Olympic games a corrupt and boring farce.

  25. Anna . I agree that James `s storry is really great… last thursday I got a top of the range Mitsubishi Evo after bringing in $4828 this last 5 weeks and just over ten grand last-munth . no-doubt about it, this really is the best work I’ve ever had . I began this four months/ago and straight away started to bring in at least $87, per-hour
    ????????> http://www.factoryofincome.com

  26. This is the standard strawman that we see with the immigration debate. I know of no one who opposes immigration. Many Americans, however, are distressed by uncontrolled illegal immigration flowing across the border. This is a reasonable concern. It is not xenophobic or bigoted to expect reasonable border control from a government.

    Yet those on the other side of the debate consistently characterize this as anti-immigration, anti-immigrant, xenophobic or just bigotry.

    Praising immigrants who have made a positive mark, or waxing romantic about the immigrant nature of our history, has nothing to do with the very clear point made by those who seek reasonable controls. It is a red herring.

    1. I suggest that ALL immigrants be given full and unfettered access to all assets that people who support uncontrolled immigration own. Once that happens, I will believe they who support this do. Until then, fuck them. We have NO contract with non-US citizens with regard to “immigration”. None.

  27. So aren’t these athletes mostly from countries that desperately need the economic benefit of their skills much more than the USA does?

  28. How many of the other countries teams have any foreign born members at all?

  29. Facebook gives you a great opportunity to earn 98652$ at your home.If you are some intelligent you makemany more Dollars.I am also earning many more, my relatives wondered to see how i settle my Life in few days thank GOD to you for this…You can also make cash i never tell alie you should check this I am sure you shocked to see this amazing offer…I’m Loving it!!!!
    ????????> http://www.factoryofincome.com

  30. The US is one of the best places to live in the world. People with an athletic talent use it as a ticket to the US. Yay. Go tell China, maybe they’ll change their economic system and not be so isolationist to win more medals. I’ll hold my breath.

    The headline could have easily read: “Immigrants bring more illegal drugs to the US,” or “Immigrants bring more disease to the US,” or “Immigrants bring more Food Stamp dependents to the US,” or “Immigrants work in the US.”

    Lazy article with an slant to the benefits of legal immigration. My guess is the writer’s hope is the reader will upgrade his/her overall view of the benefits of immigration, legal or illegal. Please let me know if I’m wrong, author.

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.