The immigrant’s dilemma on Election Day

By Caitlin Kelly


In a few days, American citizens will choose their new President, (and other elected officials, which tends to get lost in the fray.)

Some of us who chose to come to the United States — and not those (blessedly) fleeing war, oppression, terror, economic disaster — are now, nervously, wondering…what next?

Will we stay?

If not, where will we go?


This is not unique to me; here’s a comment on a recent piece in The Economist:

An American friend who has 2 children to raise and educate has already emigrated, to Australia in this case, because his wife is Australian. And then a few Asian dual-citizenship friends already left. In their words, “America is not a good place to raise kids – too many guns, and too many strange xenophobes. It’s not worth it.” They are all bilingual, bi-literate, high-skilled professionals. I certainly am packing too if Trumps wins.

I’ve avoided much discussion here about this election, although I will say clearly I do not want Donald Trump to win and am very, very fearful of the effects, domestically and globally, his election would create.

I’m disgusted and appalled by the way he dismisses and demeans women, Muslims, Mexicans (my husband’s heritage), the disabled and others.

I chose a country I then believed welcoming to “the other”, a place where your background and beginnings mattered less than your education, skills, drive and ambition.

This no longer feels true to me.

I have not become a citizen, so I will not be voting. I will accompany my husband to the polling station, proudly, as I did last time.

Choosing to emigrate to the U.S. places you in an odd few buckets.

The word “immigrant” is too often conflated with “illegal” or assumed to be someone whose choices elsewhere were so utterly barren that we had to come, have to stay and have no better options back at home — or in any other nation.

The true picture is much moreΒ  varied.

There are immigrants who’ve made millions of dollars. There are those stuck in low-wage, menial jobs, sometimes for decades.

But there are also millions of us who thought coming to the United States, making a deliberate choice, was worth a try, maybe later in life or mid-career, maybe having to persuade a dubious spouse or children to create a fresh start here.

There are many of us, especially those with multiple language skills and the ability to work in other languages or cultures, those of us with cross-cultural fluency, who could leave, returning to our homeland or trying yet another country.

I left Toronto, and Canada, a nation with cradle-to-grave government supplied healthcare, (versus the $1,400 I pay every month here in NY, thanks to self-employment and corporate greed), a country whose very best universities offer a year’s tuition for less than $10,000 — not the $50,000 to $60,000 plus charged by the U.S.’s top private schools.


I came to the U.S. at the age of 30; then as now, I had no children to worry about.

Nor did I mind leaving my family of origin behind as we’re not close emotionally and returning, in need, is a quick 90 minute flight.

But my decision was still terrifying!

I knew very few people. Had no close family here — cousins in California with whom I have virtually no contact.

Had no job. Had no graduate degree nor the Ivy League education and social capital I would (belatedly!) learn are essential to elite success in the crazy-competitive Northeastern enclaves of publishing and journalism.

I now own property here. I’m married to an American. I have long-standing friendships and deeply love the region I chose, the lower Hudson Valley.

But the prospect of a Trump Presidency is making me, and many, many others deeply anxious.

Those of us with portable skills and multiple passports and/or citizenships do have options.

Thanks to my paternal Irish grandfather, I can also apply for Irish citizenship and an EU passport; I already speak fluent French and decent Spanish.

Does this country, in an era of growing global competitiveness — when American schoolchildren rank lower than other nations — really want a potential brain drain of some of the most highly educated and highly skilled workers, thinkers and innovators it needs most?


Of those once sufficiently seduced by that elusive American dream to wave goodbye to everything, and everyone, we knew before?

No matter who we vote for, we can still vote with our feet.

Will we need to go?

Will we want to?

We’ll know soon enough.

32 thoughts on “The immigrant’s dilemma on Election Day

  1. I don’t know what else to say except good luck, and if the worst happens, many who want to vote with their feet will be welcome here in Canada and elsewhere.

    I have to say that I am shocked to learn of the underlying core and depth of racism and prejudice that has lead to Trump getting as far as he has. There have always been significant philosophical differences between Canadians & Americans, but this represents an extreme divergence that I didn’t believe to be possible, a schism, maybe. He’s now being openly compared to Hitler. I am fearful as well of having to live with this careless, narcissistic fruitloop on our border and I worry that if he gets in, it will require a lot to pry him out.

    My husband and I have always enjoyed visiting the US, and I also used to live in Phoenix – but he’s recently indicated that he’s no longer comfortable with going there, given all the guns, racism & fear.

    1. It has been a very frightening experience to witness the naked hatred he has stoked and inflamed with his rallies and tweets. He is a liar and a cheat and has no morals. To imagine him as Commander in Chief is a nightmare.

  2. i feel certain that trump will not win in the end, but it still is terrifying that he is even a serious candidate. i can understand all of the fears that go with this race and his approach to the world, but i still feel that for me, i am in the place i want to be.

  3. Personally,I’m not sure I can emigrate. I’m sure I could, but the problem is, I’ve got a good job now, and I’m not sure I could find one just as good if I left the country (as I put it to one coworker, “I’m not leaving the golden goose in the hopes of finding another golden goose whose feathering is slightly more my style”). Not to mention that living in another country can be expensive!
    For the moment, though, I’m going to hope. We’ve still got a few days left, and maybe things will turn out the way I want them to, and moving will be a moot point. Fingers crossed.

    1. Emigration is a really big deal — which is why feeling like my decades here are possibly ending up with this mess? Appalling. I know many many Americans feel this way as well, which should, I guess be comforting, but isn’t. πŸ™‚

      1. You know, I had an epiphany about the election the other day. It’s only fun when the candidate you like is doing well. When that happens, everything’s roses and you wish election day was today. When they’re not doing well or their opponent is gaining in the polls, you’re filled with anxiety and terror and just wish the election wasn’t happening at all.
        It’s like some twisted roller coaster, and we’ve all bought a ticket aboard.

  4. All very valid points Caitlin but I’m not sure a move to Europe is a good idea either with the rise of so many right wing people to prominence. France with Le Pens, Germany, The Netherlands. There are Holocaust deniers in Switzerland and German apologists everywhere. The Canadian option looks good again and with such a brain drain who knows where Canada and Australia and maybe New Zealand could end up.
    I’m relying on good sense to prevail on 8th and the underlying xenophobia brought to the fore by Trump will die down. Maybe enough votes will be cast to create a viable third party for 4 years time. One where maybe big business doesn’t lead and puts people first.
    There’s always hope and I promise my fingers are crossed for sanity on Tuesday.
    xxx Huge Hugs xxx

    1. I wondered which of my European readers would make this point…and I am glad you did. πŸ™‚ I’ve long hoped to retire to France, part time or full-time — but I also read the FT every day and listen to BBC and read The Economist, so am somewhat up to speed on European affairs as a result. I agree, it’s a frightening time in so many places now.

      I cannot imagine Americans creating a viable third party, and fear it would be one to the extreme right — not to the left, as I think needs to happen. We’ll see.

  5. Come live in Ireland! It’s an hour or two to everywhere in Europe and only five hours to the East Coast. Politics here are staid (no bad thing). Now if only we could do something about the weather..

  6. Are we really this fragile? Would we, who have been so blessed, seriously “get in line” with those running from war, poverty and horrible persecution? Is our answer to life when it doesn’t go our way to plot our escape to a new place where things will be easier, cleaner, softer, happier, less controversial or embarrassing? Are we so lacking in core strength, and allegiance of any kind, that we cannot handle the results of an election? Is it easier to pack up than to stand up for what we believe in? Is America nothing more than a place to be exploited for our own gain and then dropped the minute we are asked to help preserve and protect what made it so attractive in the first place? My advice to those considering fleeing is this- Turn off the news. If we have learned ANYTHING in the past months it is this: the press has actively massaged the truth into a tool to manipulate those seeking information. It is a distortion that rises (sinks?) daily to new levels of journalistic malpractice. Is it perfect here? Nope- but my roots were sunk in deep back in 1978 when I moved here.. and even though I stand ready to be mortified on Nov 8- no matter who wins- I will keep working hard to give back to this country ..and its people whom I have come to love.

    1. It’s a good question. I think, whatever happens, people have to face the reality of what the vote says.

      It’s not simply a matter of this election, for me, but larger changes in the way this country is now deeply split between the wealthy and the rest of us. The social safety net is thin and weak and there’s no political will to strengthen it. The loss of Obamacare will deeply wound millions.

      So running away isn’t a great choice. But feeling utterly impotent politically isn’t one either.

      1. Having put four kids through public schools in several different states, I see the parallels between education in the US and the way government is run. I have always maintained that if your child is gifted or academically challenged..he or she will receive support. Stuck in the middle are the ones who are ignored until they fall into the lower, or rise up into the higher, category. This is the plight of the middle class. My sister’s Obamacare payment is now at $1,000 a month for catastrophic coverage with a $5,000 deductible. She tried to cancel the other day and they told her she couldn’t because she was on she called the bank to stop auto payment. She’s almost 60, single, a homeowner and owns her own business. She works like a dog. Now she’s going to have to pay the newly increased penalty. I would dare say that many not working and possibly many non-citizens are getting a better deal in healthcare than my sister.. We have insurance through my husband’s job, but back when Obamacare passed I lost every doc except for one. I even offered to pay cash at one and was told I couldn’t!! – SO yeah, the pie is small and slices are being cut..but more often than not, it’s the working middle class getting crumbs. I find myself losing confidence in many of our governmental structures & systems- most esp the Supreme Court which seems to be morphing into more of a depository of moral & political opinions than constitutional analysis..but..BUT… at the end of the day- I still feel enormously blessed to live here and tasked to do my part to help my neighbor..mostly through our church that ministers so lovingly to ALL those in need. I am so, so, sooo grateful to have an eternal’s truly what keeps me going! No matter what happens next week, we will be OK..we have our families and friends and neighbors and even if it’s yucky for a while, we will be OK.

      2. It’s a difficult time for so many people; college costs a fortune and there seems to be almost no way to re-train affordably for a decently-paid 2nd or 3rd or 4th career. Being self-employed is vaguely terrifying, but no one can fire us without warning — and we have no children to support.

      3. It is an uneasy feeling, and I’m not sure our “representatives” understand (or care?) about the magnitude of our fears and concerns. Why are so many who “serve” the people in government millionaires??? It’s surely not their salaries. I have to share this funny story- So yesterday we were in Jacksonville to see NAVY play Notre Dame with precious, dear old friends. As is often the case when NAVY plays, there was a “fly over” prior to the game. We were a bit surprised that only two, large, lumbering, old Coast Guard planes chugged over head, but hey- everyone cheered anyway…you know-Go USA!! Anyway, less than an hour later, as the game was being played, four fighter jets were spotted low in the sky, flying slowly in close formation with a large commercial looking plane right behind them. It didn’t take long to realize it was President Obama in Air force One. Once we got back to Charlotte, I looked up Mr. Obama’s week-end schedule- simply out of curiosity. Seems he was on the stump in the Orlando area for Hillary today..but he was going to play golf on Saturday when we saw him fly over the stadium. Now I’m not saying it’s just democrats..or Obama..but come on- he was all about “hope and change” before he got a taste of the “vida loca” that seems to derail every single politicians’ best intentions. It’s like they get to DC and something happens..a bit akin to the Soviet ruling class in the old days hanging out in their waterfront dachas … I’ve thought a lot about what I saw yesterday passing above us in the sky..and I must say, i don’t like what it visually represents. πŸ˜• And I have a feeling that you and I have more in common than we may think. πŸ‘

  7. I’ve so many thoughts on this, and trying to work a few blog posts out of the topic myself. Jeff and I have had multiple conversations about how, this year especially, we literally cannot think of a place in the US we’d want to live if we “had” to go back.

    There’s been a lot of hyperbole (mostly on the right and mostly from older white straight men) this election of people saying that they “don’t recognize their country anymore.”

    Well, neither do I.

    1. Which is deeply shocking and depressing…To not even recognize your own country.

      This campaign has been utterly toxic and bizarre — from endless Wikileaks, endless threats of various lawsuits, sexism, misogyny…

  8. Pingback: [BLOG] Some Sunday links | A Bit More Detail

  9. I have the good fortune to leave because I have the resources and support of my hubby (who has dual citizenship with Canada). But how many other immigrants and other disaffected peoples have a viable option to leave the potentially ramped up oppressive and discriminatory America of the near future. It’s scary because the last year or so has shown me that a huge segment of America is angry at a lot of people, armed, and feels free to express their vitriol loud and proud. 😐

    1. Indeed.

      And simply “moving to Canada” also means finding and keeping well-paid jobs in a smaller economy with higher tax rates and a brutally high cost of housing in cities like Toronto and Vancouver.

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