Migrants crying freedom from nationalists violence

Getting a second passport is no longer a party trick, but a necessity in the new era of nationalism

By Pamela Druckerman (First Person)

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Published: Sun 12 Mar 2017, 11:00 PM

Last updated: Mon 13 Mar 2017, 8:33 PM

Soon after Donald Trump was inaugurated, I got a letter from France's interior ministry informing me that I was now French.
By the time it arrived, I'd been French for nearly two weeks, without even knowing it. ("Had you felt yourself becoming more and more rude?" a friend asked.) I didn't immediately see the letter in geopolitical terms, because I was filled with the flush of my new Frenchness.
"You're now sleeping with a Frenchwoman!" I informed my husband in bed that night. I picked up some litter on the street - now my street - and finally cracked open my copy of "The Stranger" in French. After 13 years in Paris, I suddenly relished being asked where I was from, so I could smile and say with my American accent, "Je suis française."
I had applied to become French - or rather Franco-American, as I'm now a dual citizen - partly because I could: I'd lived and paid taxes here for long enough. As the wife of a British citizen, I could already live anywhere in Europe. And I had an American passport - the ultimate guarantee of security. This had been proved true in my family: My great-grandparents left Russia for America, where they prospered. The relatives who stayed behind were killed. But in the roughly year and a half that it took the French to process my paperwork, America and the world had changed.
In this new nationalist era, having a second passport no longer seems like a party trick. For a foreigner, it's an attempt to ensure that you won't suddenly become unwelcome. Yet there's less room for people who belong to more than one place. Becoming French was an achievement in itself. I lost whole days trying to get the correct stamps on documents.
When the Brexit referendum passed last summer, I started getting anxious. Brexit threw my husband's right to live in France - and therefore mine and our children's - into jeopardy. I made a panicked call to my interviewer, who said that if I haven't heard anything in 10 months, I should call back. Then Trump won the American election. My husband is so upset by President Trump's scapegoating of immigrants and Muslims, he refuses to even visit the United States. (Conveniently, this also means he won't have to visit his American in-laws.)
Moving my family to America was always going to be a hard sell, but it now seems almost impossible. I'm not boycotting America. In fact I've never felt more attached to my country. I listen to political podcasts so obsessively that, for a while, I couldn't fall asleep unless someone was talking to me about Trump. But my view is distorted by distance. From afar it can seem like politics is the only thing happening in America.
When my mother in Florida mentions that she's off to play golf, I think: Golf? In the age of Trump? I've grown attached to France, too. That's partly because the rest of the world has gotten worse.
France is also where I had my children, wrote my books, and where I know the supermarket by heart - though I suspect I'll always write grocery lists in English. When I tell French friends about my citizenship, they're keen to know how difficult it was to get it. (Young adulthood here is essentially a series of ultracompetitive entrance examinations.) Their next question is whether I can vote in April's presidential elections. The nationalist Marine Le Pen is a serious contender. Polls show that she'll lose in a runoff, but after Brexit and Trump, who knows?
Le Pen has pledged to ban dual nationalities for French people from outside the European Union - though she has said, mysteriously, that Russian passports will be tolerated. The ban seems targeted at the millions of French Muslims with North African origins. She says she'd make dual citizens choose just one.
As Trump tries to bar refugees and some Muslims, and orders the roundup of immigrants, he too seems to want to define people by just one thing: their passport, immigration status or their religion. But some 60 per cent of America's undocumented immigrants have lived there for at least 10 years. Among Mexicans, that figure is 78 per cent. I can vouch for the fact that - whatever your immigration status - that's long enough to belong to a place.
"I would do anything for this country," Daniela Vargas, a 22-year-old Argentine who has lived in America since age 7, said from a detention centre in Louisiana early this month. She was later freed, but she could still be deported.
I'm now literally waiting to be reborn as a French person. In about six months, I'm supposed to receive a French birth certificate, along with an official letter from the president of France. I wonder who that will be. My view is distorted by distance. From afar it can seem like politics is the only thing happening in America.
Pamela Druckerman is the author of "Bringing Up Bébé: One American Mother Discovers the Wisdom of French Parenting." - NYT Syndicate

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