Immigrants are 45’s most frightening imaginary enemy…
Photograph by A. Strakey
Trump appears to be obsessed with people who embody choice. Immigrants are his most frightening imaginary enemy, the ones who need to be “extremely vetted,” blocked out with a wall, whose crimes need to be reported to a special hotline and whose families need to be kept out of this country. It puts me in mind of the “aggressive monitoring” for the cancer that’s sure to come. Transgender people have been another target of Trump’s apparently spontaneous lashing out—witness the transgender ban in the military, the rescinding of protections for transgender students, and now the ban on the very word “transgender.”
But in speaking about immigrants we tend to privilege choicelessness much as we do when we are speaking about queer people or transgender people. We focus on the distinction between refugees and “economic migrants,” without asking why the fear of hunger and destitution qualifies as a lesser reason for migration than the fear of imprisonment or death by gunshot wound—and then only if that wound is inflicted for political or religious reasons. But even more than that, why do we assume that the more restricted a person’s choices have been, the more qualified they are to enter a country that proclaims freedom of personal choice to be one of its ideals?
Immigrants make a choice. The valor is not in remaining at risk for catching a bullet but in making the choice to avoid it. In the Soviet Union, most dissidents believed that if one were faced with the impossible choice between leaving the country and going to prison, one ought to choose exile. Less dramatically, the valor is in being able to experience your move less as an escape and more as an adventure. It is in serving as living reminders of the choicefulness of life—something that immigrants and most trans people do, whether their personal narratives are ones of choice or not.