Friday, June 23, 2017

Americans in exile are real but nobody knows how many there are

The "nation of immigrants" does not talk much these days about U.S. citizens who opt for a life in exile.

There are many reasons for this, for example, the fact that segments of the US population erroneously believe that the whole world wants nothing more than to become Americans. Or the fact that declaring yourself a "nation of immigrants" allows you to leave aside those who were here before you - the native Americans - and those you brought over as slaves.

It is also much easier to focus on those who come because they affirm your life, they presumably want what you have. So, you play the greatest country on earth card and, at the same time, debate endlessly about the newcomers stealing your jobs and your women.

On the other hand, those who leave are no longer competitors for jobs and women. Sorry, American males, we'll simply ignore the hundreds of thousands or millions of military brides who have been stealing American men in the seven decades since the end of World War II.

Jokes aside, who are the American exilees or refugees, how can we even start to define them?

During the Vietnam War, thousands of American young men absconded to Canada or other countries in protest of the war. Unlike to lazy draft dodgers like Dick Cheney and Donald Trump, most of these refugees did not have a nice doctor who handed out medical certificates that attested to a condition making them unfit for killing and being killed in Asia.

We do not have good numbers as to how many left the US and how many came back once the war was over, but it seems safe to assume most returned.

When George W. Bush came to power, there was again talk of people planning to go to Canada, and when Trump was elected, the Canadian immigration website went down for a short time under an overload of traffic.

These groups have one thing in common: they talked quite openly about their plans, and the media reported.

Others are less noticed, making brief headlines, then disappearing from view. A high profile example in Germany was Laura Poitras, of Snowden whistleblowing fame. While contemplating to remain in exile in Berlin, Germany, she eventually returned to spend time in the US after US border security stopped harassing her.

Another example was a US soldier who asked for asylum in Germany as a conscientious objector to the Iraq War. His request was denied despite a German court ruling stating the war was illegal.

Other US military personnel quietly opt for in country discharge and build new lives in Germany without going much into political explanations. But when a black former soldier from the South tells you he hasn't been to the US in almost a decade, there is a good chance his reasons include more than "liking Germany".

Or where on the spectrum of "temporary and for fun" to "good riddance America" do you put state department employees who have no intention to go back?

What about all the individuals who move without making waves, ostensibly for work, or live with the German grandmother?

It is a rare US citizen who will stand up during a German town hall meeting on refugee issues and begin his contribution with: I am an American refugee.

If you ever want to hear a pin drop in a German town hall meeting, we recommend using this line.

Every self respecting country has a lengthy "interview" process for newcomers, often nosing around in the most intimate life of an immigrant.

Not one country the blogster knows off bothers with an "exit interview".

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