Schwarzenegger, Warren Buffet and Chris Matthews in 2008
California attracts more immigrants than any other state in the United States. We deny them drivers’ licenses, health care, and other social services. Illegal immigrants in particular typically assume jobs in construction, gardening, house-cleaning, and other forms of manual labor. They earn less than the average non-high school graduates. It’s surprising, then, that multi-millionaire likely-illegal immigrant Arnold Schwarzenegger once held the highest position of power in the state.
The actor, politician, and businessman was born in Thal, Austria, and immigrated to the United States in 1968 at age 21 on a B-1 Visa (“Bio” 1 and “Schwarzenegger May Have Violated” 1). B-1 Visas allow for athletes and other special visitors to live in the United States for brief periods of time. Travelers under B-1 Visas are allowed some pay for their work, but do not receive an officially established salary. Schwarzenegger’s attorney claims that he received an H-2 Visa, which allows consistent pay, after Schwarzenegger had lived in the United States for a year. At this time, Schwarzenegger was working as a bricklayer, a point highly advertised to immigrant populations during his 2003 campaign for governor. Some immigration attorneys still believe he violated the terms of his Visa, whether B-1 or H-2, because both would prohibit starting his own bricklaying business, which he did in 1971. Since Schwarzenegger arrived in the country as an athlete, an H-2 Visa would allow solely that (Siskind Susser, 1-2).
This event sparked major controversy, especially since Schwarzenegger staunchly promoted Prop 187. Introduced in 1994, Prop 187 banned illegal immigrants from receiving state social services. It demotes that illegal immigrants are granted driver’s licenses and encourages stricter border enforcement ( On the Issues, 5).
Although there is no absolute evidence that Schwarzenegger lived in the U.S. illegally, the situation is still highly ironic. Firstly, it’s difficult to believe that someone who supposedly arrived in the U.S. with only twenty dollars and little English proficiency could deject open immigration policy so stringently. Secondly, someone from very humble beginnings became the most powerful person in California.
This is what makes Schwarzenegger’s story so inspiring. He strived to success, not just as a body builder but as someone immersed with little resources in a completely new culture. He displayed rigor and ambition, earning seven Mount Olympia titles, starring in blockbuster films, and sending himself to business school to become California’s 38th governor. It illustrates to the public the potential of our documented and undocumented immigrants that the American Dream still exists. If we take anything from Schwarzenegger’s story, it’s that one can still rise from poverty to wealth and obscurity to fame in the United States.