New Yorkers fearful of Trump, right-wing populism pursue citizen options outside of U.S.


Should I stay or should I go?

The election of Donald Trump and rise of right wing populism in the United States have many New Yorkers — one third of whom are immigrants — exploring their options to leave the country and obtain a hedge, in the event life becomes intolerable for them here. New Yorkers are probing their ancestry to see if they might be eligible for citizenship elsewhere, obtaining documents required to prove their roots, applying for skilled worker programs and citizenship abroad, and sometimes moving lock, stock and barrel.

New Yorkers — who voted six-to-one for Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump — fear heightened discrimination and persecution, losing health care coverage under an administration that has vowed to demolish the Affordable Care Act, getting nuked as a result of a bellicose or provocative act by an impetuous president, and not being able to carve out a viable future in an increasingly xenophobic nation that seems to have lost its promise.

The Irish Embassy and its consulates “certainly did receive a spike in inquiries in the immediate aftermath of the election,” regarding Irish citizenship, Siobhan Miley, press officer for the Embassy of Ireland, said in a statement. It’s too soon to know how many people will follow through to obtain it, said Miley, who could not provide numbers. Google searches regarding “dual citizenship” and “Canadian citizenship,” and for citizenship in nations within the European Union, showed huge spikes after Nov. 8, with many peaks following leaps in July, after Trump became the Republican nominee.

“After the November election, there has been an increase in the number of patrons asking for the letters of exemplification, which are necessary for obtaining dual citizenship from some of the EU countries,” said Barbara Hibbert, Vital Record Room Supervisor at the NYC Department of Records and Information Services. There were 110 requests for such records in November last year, compared to only 49 in 2015, she noted.

Cori Carl, 32, sold her Ditmas Park co-op last year and moved with her wife to Toronto, blogging about their experience all the while. Since the election, “We’ve gotten at least 100 emails, texts and phone calls” from other Americans — most of them New Yorkers — who also want to explore relocating to Canada, she said.

Carl, director of TheCaregiverSpace.org, is now a permanent resident of Canada and hopes to become a citizen. “Upward mobility is much better here, there is less racism,” and homophobia is non-existent, she marveled. “I didn’t feel discriminated against as a lesbian in New York, but now that I’m in Toronto, I think maybe I was,” she said, only half joking.

Then there is her new ease of daily life: Housing costs and crime are a fraction of levels in the U.S., and the people are always friendly. “In Canada, nobody goes bankrupt,” as a result of illness or trauma, and its universal medical system is excellent, Carl noted, adding that taxes weren’t unreasonable, either.

Bree Rubin, 32, an Upper East Side web designer and artist, is one of the people who reached out to Carl. Rubin, who is Jewish, sees a parallel in the backlash against immigrants and Muslims to rising anti-Jewish sentiment in Germany as the Nazis came to power. She is contemplating a move because she believes the U.S. is in danger of becoming a “kleptocratic dynasty. Do you want to pay your taxes to a country that doesn’t take care of its people when you have a president who doesn’t pay taxes? The social contract has been decimated,” she explained.

More urgently, “my entire generation, and the artistic community in particular, is up s— creek without a paddle,” should Republicans succeed in repealing the Affordable Care Act, Rubin said: Her husband, who has Type 1 diabetes, was unable to obtain insurance until the ACA became a reality, she noted. “It’s hard to leave your home,” and she doesn’t want to, but “the skies are really darkening,” Rubin said.

Nor does Upper East Sider Ayesha Hakki (“early 40s”), who is in the process of recertifying her Canadian citizenship, want to leave NYC. Born in Canada, she was brought to the U.S. at the age of seven, graduated from Rutgers University, and became a U.S. citizen in the 1990s, surrendering her Canadian passport. Hakki, the publisher of Bibi Magazine, a South Asian bridal and fashion publication for the U.S. market, is Muslim and a breast cancer survivor. She gushes adoringly about New York City and the opportunities she has found here, but notes, “Lord only knows what is going to happen. … It just seems prudent to have a backup plan.” Her mother, who lives in Canada, goaded Hakki to file paperwork to recertify her status as a Canadian, fearful that Hakki may find herself without health insurance. “Because I was born there, I’m eligible automatically,” to recertify, she said. Hakki’s many friends with immigrant roots “are all hedging their bets right now,” by making sure to keep up or resurrect ties to their original nations or document ties to the lands of their ancestors.

Lots of people exploring and reclaiming their options, like Hakki, don’t want to leave: They just realize that maximizing options is a smart move in a world of increasing geopolitical uncertainty.

A 21-year-old film student from Midwood with Trinidadian parents said he preferred his name not be used because he feared being seen as disloyal by a new government that punishes disloyalty. He was pursuing citizenship in his parents’ country “as an ‘in case of emergency, break glass’” measure should he need to leave the U.S. Moving to Trinidad “is the last thing I’d do,” but solidifying his citizenship there is “a matter of making sure all my bases are covered,” in the event the U.S. is attacked as a result of a Trump tweet, or if the economy crashes. He also said traveling on a non-U.S. passport is often easier. “There’s always been a stigma abroad to being an American and I’d much rather be perceived as a guy from a rock in the middle of nowhere,” with Trump the incoming president, he said.

Ironically, some citizens in the world’s richest nation are newly appreciative of the dilemma of those in the world’s poorest and most war-torn nations, finding themselves forced to decide whether to stay and fight against a regime they abhor, or to flee for their own well-being. Carl, ambivalent about leaving the land of her birth, still volunteers for NOW-NYC. “I continue to be political,” to help U.S. causes she believes in from outside its borders, she said. But the reason she and her wife self-published a book, “Moving to Canada,” and began blogging about it for free “was to help people realize that even if you don’t qualify for citizenship by ancestry, there are still real options all around the world,” to find happiness, security and peace.