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Immigrants Of The Week: Lenny Krayzelburg, Parminder Nagra, Charlize Theron, Lou Dobbs' Colleagues, And Sidney Poitier

by Greg Siskind

Editor's note: Here are some entries from Greg Siskind's blog.


Missed a day yesterday as I've been traveling.

One of the most successful athletes in modern US Olympic history is Lenny Krayzelburg, the four-time gold medal winning swimmer. Krayzelburg is certainly one of the best backstrokers in the history of the sport having simultaneously held the world record in all six backstroke events.

I had the opportunity to meet Lenny Krayzelburg shortly after he won several medals at the 2000 Olympics in Sidney. That's because he is one of the most successful refugees to have been resettled by HIAS, the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society. HIAS, incidentally, helped my own family resettle 100 years ago and my wife's family when they came to the US as refugees after World War II. I've been serving on HIAS' national board for the last ten years. HIAS, incidentally, settles refugees of all religious faiths from regions around the world. They're also the country's oldest refugee resettlement organization having operated continuously since 1881.

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Parminder's name is not familiar to most Americans, but most of us probably would know her if we saw her. She starred in the hit movie Bend it Like Beckham and had a lead role in Ella Enchanted and has played Dr. Neela Rasgotra for the past four seasons on the hit American show ER.

[UPDATE: I forgot to mention something immigration-related that I thought was interesting. I caught an interview with Ms. Nagra some time back with talk show host Craig Ferguson and the two were commiserating about DHS port officers and the poor treatment each had received by the immigration immigration officials.]

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Most Americans have no clue that South African Charlize Theron is an immigrant. And she's not an immigrant who came as a little kid. She came to the US as a young adult to study at the Joffrey Ballet in New York and after a knee injury, left for Hollywood and has had a sensational film career in the years since. She's now received two Academy Award nominations (for Monster and North Country) both for playing hardly glamorous characters (a serial killer and a miner). Despite taking these controversial roles, she is apparently about to be named Esquire Magazine's 2007 Sexiest Woman Alive.

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Tonight I was working out and my gym was showing CNN on a monitor. Lou Dobbs' nightly rant was showing and I didn't need to actually hear the first story to be appalled. Just the title was enough. I could tell from the video that the story was on Elvira Arellano and her speaking out to the Mexican parliament regarding the US government's deportation of her. Dobb's title for the story - "Mexico's Chutzpah."

Chutzpah is a Yiddish term and there's a bit of irony in the xenophobic Dobbs show using the term. First, it means audacity, gumption, nerve, etc. It often refers to someone who does something wrong and is non-apologetic about it. Which described Dobbs to a tee. Here was a guy who built his career as a business reporter, but then was washed up in the ratings. So he re-invented himself as a populist to get ratings and acts every night like he's had these beliefs all his life.

There is also irony in choosing a Yiddish word at all. Yiddish is a language created by Jewish immigrants in central and eastern Europe and is a mixture of German, Hebrew and other languages. It was the first language of millions of Jewish immigrants to the United States at the turn of the last century. And the people who used the language were constantly attacked for their failure to learn English and speak it as their primary language.  If you could transport yourself to the Lower East Side in New York 100 years ago, you would have seen Yiddish signs everywhere and heard Yiddish all around you. It was the Spanish of its day.

My other favorite thing about tonight's broadcast, by the way, was the poll at the end. Dobbs usually runs an unscientific viewer poll that is ridiculously biased in the way it is worded. And the people who are in to this show enough to bother to respond are the hardcore anti-immigrants. So the polls usually reflect results that would have made Saddam Hussein blush.

Tonight's question: "Are you outraged that the Mexican Senate supports Elvira Arellano's claim that the United States is to blame for her deportation?" The response: 94% yes, 6% no. And the results are like this every night.

It's embarrassing. CNN used to be all about being the leading broadcast journalism organization in the country. And then it started to get whooped in the ratings by Fox and it's opinion shows. So CNN decided to blur all the lines of what is journalism and run Dobbs' nightly propaganda show. Any CNN reporter who appears on this show should really be ashamed of themselves.

Anyway, a few weeks back I started paying attention to who I was seeing on CNN everyday and started to notice a lot of folks that appeared to be immigrants. And I thought - "How ironic?" CNN  runs the most anti-immigrant news show on television, hosted by Mr. Dobbs. If Mr. Dobbs really kept to his rhetoric, why is he not railing against these immigrant job stealers?. Based on his views, shouldn't CNN insist on hiring only American-born journalists? I feel bad for these journalists. They probably have to be very careful about criticizing Dobbs lest they risk the wrath of the big CNN ratings leader.

So I've decided to honor 14 CNN reporters who are part of CNN's American network and have to put up with Mr. Dobbs. There may be more, but here are folks that I've confirmed were born in other countries. They need our pity -

Christiane Amanpour - British/Iranian

Guillermo Arduino - Argentina

Matthew Chance - England

Kiran Chetry - Nepal

Michael Holmes - Australia

Lola Martinez - Spain

Octavia Nasr - Lebanon

Paula Newton - Canada

Betty Nguyen - Vietnam

Atika Shubert - Indonesia

Abbi Tatton - England

Ali Velshi - Canada

Zain Verjee - Kenya/India

Michael Ware - Australia

Harris Whitbeck - Guatemala

Rick Sanchez - Cuba

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If you make a short list of the greatest living actors in America, you're likely to include Sir Sidney Poitier. Poitier is officially listed as being born in Miami, but his immigration story is a little more complicated. He was actually born on a ship heading from the Bahamas to Florida and his parents were Bahamian and Haitian. As a citizen of the Bahamas, a Commonwealth nation, Poitier qualified for full knighthood. He's also served as Bahamian Ambassador to China.

If you're at all a student of US film history, you'll likely have seen some of Poitier's films. Lilies in the Field and Look Whose Coming to Dinner are two that immediately come to mind.  He won the Academy Award in 1964 for the former, becoming the first actor of color ever to take home the Oscar Statue. He also won the Academy Award for lifetime achievement in 2002. You may also be familiar with films like To Sir With Love, A Raisin in the Sun and In the Heat of the Night.

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About The Author

Greg Siskind is a partner in Siskind Susser's Memphis, Tennessee, office. After graduating magna cum laude from Vanderbilt University, he received his Juris Doctorate from the University of Chicago. Mr. Siskind is a member of AILA, a board member of the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, and a member of the ABA, where he serves on the LPM Publishing Board as Marketing Vice Chairman. He is the author of several books, including the J Visa Guidebook and The Lawyer's Guide to Marketing on the Internet. Mr. Siskind practices all areas of immigration law, specializing in immigration matters of the health care and technology industries. He can be reached by email at

The opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the opinion of ILW.COM.