I don’t want to get into politics, but as a person who has lived in several countries, had to deal with immigration, and has a normal sense of what is right, I can’t afford to stay quiet.
Throughout my journey in the developing world, I’ve met lots of self-called ‘expats’. Very good heartened people, mostly white folks from the developed world, living abroad. Even though they are amazing, they are in an exclusive category called “expats.”
Commonly ‘expats’ are: retired who seek a country where their money would go farther without work, temporary workers sent by their company earning high salaries usually criticizing the local culture, and people living inside “their expat community” (normally gated communities) and speaking their own language. And then the exceptions: The English teacher who went abroad to help the local community but it is a self proclaimed expat, or the hippie traveling around the world who decided to take a break in a certain place.
Have I ever heard them claiming to be an immigrant? No.
Do they speak the local language? Normally not.
Are they a burden to the local economy? Not really. But do they make the local economy better? Not even close (in a lot of cases they are a problem to the local economy…)
Are they perceived as a threat in their new communities? Do they suffer racial profiling? Are they denied their basic rights? NO… so why do so many people think it is ok to deny basic rights to someone else?
My main question is: why are “Expats” not immigrants? Because over the years the term immigrants have been connected to poor people fleeing from the developing world towards the developed world. Immigrants became a connotation for brown, black, Asian, Latino, muslim, or any other ethnical/ religion who don’t fit into the “white people from the developed world living abroad” category.
But in the end of the day the word ‘immigrant’ and ‘expat’ are interchangeable. If you are an expat, you are an immigrant. Period. It is all about perception. Expats don’t want to use the term immigrant because it has a negative connotation. Expats are white people from the developed world, immigrants are non-white folks coming from somewhere else…. But remember, the terms are the same. An “immigrant” can’t afford to be called expat, but an expat can easily pick the best term to reflect how they feel. This is privilege.
Making it clear: when I was doing my Master in the United States, I was perceived as an immigrant, working in Ecuador I am also perceived as an immigrant. But my American coworker working in Ecuador is called an expat. Why is that?
Immigrants are hardworking, centered, committed, and a lot of times well educated people. We adapt, we integrate, we work to make our society better, we learn a second language (a third language if needed), we respect the local culture and try to be part of it. So why is the term immigrant always looked down? Why do so many people fear immigrants and want them out? But still loving ‘expats’?
According to the US State Department, there are about 9 millions Americans living abroad… are these Americans immigrants somewhere else? Or expats? White privilege, and “developed world privilege” is real. I’ve met a lot of “Expats” who just “went abroad in a tourist VISA, but it is so easy to get papers out here.” How do you think is it to get papers in the United States? Impossible, expensive, and it takes years (if you are lucky enough to even have a chance).
DACA recipients only know the United States as home, they are a huge asset for the economy, they work harder than most-white people (it is true), they are educated and with a sense of purpose – but they are just perceived as “immigrants,” soon to be “undocumented immigrants” in the only place they call home. But most important, they are humans who deserve to live where they feel like they belong. Migration is a human rights. The hate and the fear against immigrants is getting out of control, and to suspend DACA is cruel and inhuman.
The pathways to legal immigration in the United States are hard, complicated and mostly impossible – and I say it from experience. There is no way for a person to “just apply for a green card” if s/he feels like. DACA recipients were given a way to citizenship, and now they are being denied basic rights.
If you are against DACA, or undocumented immigration in the US, I encourage you to get informed about the immigration laws in the United States. I encourage you to read about the impacts of immigrants in your local community, and in the economy. I encourage you to reach out to some immigrants to know their story, their challenges and situation. I encourage you to be human and have compassion. I encourage you to provide help to the hard working immigrants that make a country like the United States so great.