Immigration lawyers in Canada and the EU see citizenship applications rising exponentially; while this may be common in election years, the proportion of Jewish applicants is not
A sign marks the Canadian border. (Lorie Shaull/Flickr/ via JTA)
JTA — By 11:42 a.m. on the morning after US President Donald Trump refused to condemn white supremacists during the presidential debate, Heather Segal had received four inquiries from Americans interested in moving to Canada. Two of them were Jewish.
Segal, an immigration lawyer in Toronto, knows there’s always a spike in inquiries during US election years. But in her 25 years of experience, it’s never been as big as it is now.
“In my life, I have never seen what I’m seeing,” said Segal, who is herself Jewish. She said she hears the same fears from one Jewish American after another.
“What they echo to me: ‘We’ve seen this before,’” Segal said. “‘I’m not going to get stuck. I’m not going to get caught. We know how this goes. There’s going to be a civil war. It’s going to be the end of democracy. I’m very concerned for our future. I don’t want to wait and see what happens. My grandparents left Poland in World War II.’”
She added, “Whatever it is, honestly, it gives me pause. What do I hear? ‘I never thought that I would be looking for this. I’m well established in the United States. My family is here, my business is here. This is not something I ever thought would happen or that I even considered.’ That line is not one person saying it. I hear it several times a day.”
Americans vowing to move to Canada after the presidential election is almost a cliche. Among observant Jews, the same might be said of moving to Israel — where most Jews get automatic citizenship — if the wrong person takes office or if conditions change in the United States.
This year feels different, say immigration lawyers and others who work in the small industry of Jews permanently crossing borders. Much of the drive to leave has to do with the prospect of Trump winning reelection, potentially after a chaotic post-election period in which he or others dispute the results of the vote. American Jews, lawyers and advocates say, are also chilled by a climate of rising extremism and anti-Semitism, some of it stoked or condoned by the president.
Longtime Jewish leaders who are seen as moderate are now comparing this moment in American politics to early 1930s Germany, when Hitler rose to power and the fate of the Jews in Europe began to be sealed. For members of a people who have never experienced lasting security under any government until the last century, the moment is awakening deep-seated anxiety about how to ensure their family’s safety if the worst comes to pass in the United States.
“There’s a lot that goes through my head while this is going on, about what was my family thinking as Hitler was rising to power?” said Sarah Morris, a lawyer in Colorado whose grandfather, originally from what was then Czechoslovakia, was the only member of his family to survive the Holocaust.
Morris is one of an increasing number of American Jews who are exploring finding a home outside the United States — whether in Canada, Israel, or the European Union. She is eligible for Canadian citizenship and submitted her application in August, spurred by fear of what could happen on and after November 3.
It is, of course, too soon to tell if the presidential election and its aftermath spark a wave of Jews and other Americans moving abroad. Certainly, most people who vow to emigrate over election results ultimately do not.
But Morris’s story reflects the anxiety that is shaping many American Jews’ thinking right now.
She and her wife have discussed getting a mobile home, partly in case they decide to leave home at a moment’s notice for a prolonged period of time.
“You think about those kinds of questions: What would be the triggering point that would cause me to leave the country?” she said. “It’s really challenging to know exactly what that tipping point should be. And I think I have a different sort of understanding of that challenge that our ancestors probably had to go through in deciding whether or not to go.”
Other Canadian immigration lawyers are seeing the same pattern.
Joseph Young, another Jewish immigration lawyer in Toronto, usually gets about two inquiries per week about moving to Canada. That number has jumped recently to at least five. And though Jews make up approximately 2% of the US population, he estimates that about 20% of his inquiries are from Jews.
Nan Berezowski, another Canadian immigration lawyer, also said inquiries about leaving the United States have risen, though she couldn’t quantify the increase, and that at least 20% appear to be from Jews.
“Things in the United States are getting a little bit out of hand,” Young said. “If Trump wins, I think you’re going to see more people continuing and completing their [immigration] applications, or at least applying. They’ve lived through four years and they’re saying ‘I’m not going to live through another four years.’”
Moving to Canada is not simple. Applications for permanent residency are evaluated based on a points system that takes into account language fluency, age, profession, and whether the applicant has previous connections to Canada, such as Canadian family or a Canadian academic degree. The process can take a year or more.
“If you speak English, you’re a graduate of a Canadian university and young, you’re a prime candidate for Canadian immigration,” said Greg Siskind, an immigration lawyer in the United States who is considering working on emigration from the US as well, based in part on the rising number of people seeking to leave. “If you are older and middle class, you’re probably not going to have such an easy time.”
Another option available to some American Jews is also onerous: securing a European passport. A handful of European countries, owing to their histories of anti-Semitic persecution and expulsion, offer citizenship to Jews whose ancestors fled their borders. Austria widened its doors earlier this month.
On that front, too, interest appears to be on the rise. Hollander-Waas Jewish Heritage Services, an agency founded last year that helps Jews track down genealogical records and navigate the countries’ citizenship processes, is getting two to three inquiries about pursuing European citizenship per week, as opposed to one a month several months ago.
The founders, Caitlin Hollander and Michael Waas, have also both individually pursued European citizenship for themselves, for emotional and practical reasons. Hollander has obtained her German citizenship, while Waas is still in the process with Portugal, the homeland of his ancestors.
The irony of potentially seeking refuge on the continent where the Holocaust and centuries of anti-Semitism were perpetrated does not escape them. Both, however, said the idea of having an option outside of America was compelling at a volatile time.
“If I can have another passport — a Jew can never have too many passports,” Hollander said. “It gives you that one little piece of freedom, one little piece of being able to travel freely without having to worry about one more visa, one more restriction, what new restrictions could exist.”
She added, “It’s reclaiming something that had been stolen, and saying this was mine. You can’t take this. And to me, at least, it’s righting a wrong that was done in 1938.”
Israel, of course, represents a global redress for the wrongs done in that year and the following decade. Almost any Jew in the world is eligible under the Law of Return, which gives Jews the ability to claim citizenship in the country if they move there.
Right now, the number of American Jews seeking to exercise that right is on the rise. Nefesh B’Nefesh, which facilitates Israeli immigration, has seen double or triple the number of applications opened from the US every month from May through September compared to the previous year.
The number of completed applications, indicating a sustained interest, has also doubled or tripled every month. Even September, which saw skyrocketing COVID-19 case numbers in Israel, saw a 72% increase in completed applications compared to September 2019, to 523 people.
But a spokeswoman for the group, Yael Katsman, said most people completing the process had long been interested in moving to Israel and felt able to make the leap after their workplaces went remote because of the pandemic.
“The political unrest is not dominant at all,” she said.
That may be because Jews must actually move to Israel to gain citizenship, making it a perpetual and vital backup plan, but not a first-line destination for Jews anxious about the political situation in America.
In contrast, citizenship programs for Jews in European countries don’t require applicants to live in the country. So for those who qualify, citizenship in Europe gives them a potential refuge while they see how things in the US turn out.
“Especially this year, it’s been like, I need to have a backup beyond Israel because to have a Portuguese passport doesn’t necessarily mean you have to go and live in Portugal,” Waas said.
It’s having multiple options, multiple routes, and that’s what a lot of people are realizing more and more
Hollander added, “It’s having multiple options, multiple routes, and that’s what a lot of people are realizing more and more.”
A move abroad appeals even to Jews who don’t fear direct, physical danger following the election but worry that another Trump term will transform the US into a place that does not reflect their values.
Jeremy, an educator in Pennsylvania who has focused his energies on teaching immigrants and underprivileged students, has found himself recently searching Canadian job boards and researching the cost of living in different Canadian cities. He said Canada is appealing because life there seems relatively similar to the US, but that the country appears to care more for marginalized groups, which is important to him as a Jew.
“I knew from a young age that I’m different because I’m Jewish,” said Jeremy, who did not give his last name due to concerns regarding privacy and job security. “That makes us able to understand certain things, to live certain fears that we have or that pretty close ancestors of ours have had in this country or in other countries. That very directly relates to how I feel about immigration. That very explicitly relates to how I feel about systemic racism.”
Segal, the Canadian immigration lawyer, said the rising number of people seeking to leave the US is “devastating to see,” despite the uptick in potential business for her. She’s always looked at the United States as an inspiration. Now she views it with fear and concern.
“It saddens me because, you know, I love America and what it stands for and what it’s accomplished,” she said. “I keep saying to myself, what is going on in America? Because I see a lot of fear and I feel like we’re at this stage [where], the fear, we don’t know what it’s going to bring.”
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The first American jewish president will murder Wall Street banker religion? really?
Interesting point from HopeInGod below!
His/her link says they need 51% in Israel, to fulfill… yada yada.
I didn’t, but many of you probably already knew that as part of your… extreme paranoia.
But it just enforces MY point more.
“People of Color” would be SO much more… entitled to, justified in, paranoia like that.
White people already have majority populations in 4/6 continents!
Not 51%, but 67% of… Earth!
The “Evil White Plot” fulfilled, for centuries!
Using Imre’s wording below:
“The EVIL of White Supremacy is driving the attitude of the world against Whites”.
Imre is saying the world is justified in an “anti-Jewish attitude” with Israel at 47% of their needed 51% in a tiny country.
So multiply that to 67% of the WORLD for justifiable “Anti-White attitude”.
Obviously, the whole thing’s stupid, but here’s the numbers.
Again, Israel is already at 47% of the needed 51%.
6.841 million out of 14.7 million.
So they need 656K more.
14.7 × .51 = 7.497 – 6.841.
Also, an irony would be that…
[Insert other demographic here] could also fulfill that FOR them by, uhh… lowering their population outside Israel.
… Which begs the question how that requirement was not already fulfilled?
It must’ve been!
Like after 1948-ish…?
You guys are so into this crap; none of you have looked it up before!?
Might ruin your theories.
Like realizing the fact Federal Reserve Banks are effectively nonprofit / nationalized.
What they have sown that you shall reap.
The ‘EVIL of Zionism’, is driving, triggering the attitude, sentiment of the World, against the Jews.
Let me Guess!
They should move to Palestine.
Not now! You’re onto them!
1) Palestinian pop. in Palestine: 50+%.
2) N̶a̶t̶i̶v̶e̶ American pop. in America: 2%.
If all Jews in US moved to Palestine, Palestinians would be: 42%.
3) World Jewish population: 14.5M.
It would take 17 PLANET EARTH’S of Jews moving to Palestine to get Palestinians to 2%.
SEVENTEEN PLANETS. Imagine it…
Just to equal a disproportion you don’t care about in your own country.
Israel has a need to increase the Jewish population in Israel, therefore if this article is correct Trump will win the election.
Israel can not start to rebuild the Holy Temple until there is a certain Jewish population within Israel.
It is often said, the strength of the US is it’s diversity and that is true. While it is politically expedient to denounce violent unlawful protest, that is actually how things get done when dealing with fascism or religious authoritarianism. Peaceful protest seldom brings about great change, and actually helps the opposition to place firewalls suited to thwart the cause.
If someone tries to be a bully and kill people for stupid reasons, their assets will be burned and they can cry about their buildings all they want. It is a false equivalence. Lives are worth more than property, and anyone who says otherwise, is completely Un-American. Sub Human actually.
I totally agree, David. We seem to be headed for some kind of Christian-Zionist theocracy that presumes to tell everyone what to think and how to live their lives. These Pharisees are in no way Christian and most likely worship the “father of lies” rather than the living G-d of justice, compassion, and truth. They surround Trump and he’s beholden to them in order to win re-election and stay out of prison.
The more any wealthy type non-protestors leave the US, the safer I feel staying. The destiny of the US, is not Handmaids Tale. After the inappropriate policing is dealt with, religions will be next. They seek control of our bodies, laws, and press. Not having it.
DISAGREE! (Generally.) I think the… DeepState wanted nothing more than for 60’s “Civil” Rights Movement to use violence.
On flipside, you could make the case that the nonviolent WHITE* Freedom Riders just shifted the onus for violence onto the State, via RFK sending US Marhalls: The Turning Point.
* Emphasis on White because obviously Black people were already being beaten & killed, firebombed…for centuries. Yawn.
💯% AGREE on Mammon Worship Destroying USA.
“#LawAndOrder” enforces that Mammon worship.
It says FEAR can be the SOLE basis to legally shoot & kill…
But not loot & steal. Property is too valuable.
And not police; you’re simply not allowed to be afraid of them. It’s illegal. Punishable by death, immediately.
Police can kill anyone & simply say “I THOUGHT he was reaching for something”. Case closed.
“He was tensing up” (resisisting) as I choked him!
(Literal quote from a case overshadowed when Elijah McClain case broke.)
You’re not allowed to squirm as they choke you to death.
… The most “radical” reform from politicians being to outlaw choke holds…
that were already outlawed when Pantaleo choked Garner to death ON VIDEO, THEN LAUGHED INTO THE CAMERA.
Ironically, the poorer Trumptards* who automatically side with police when brutalizing Minorities simultaneously believe those same police (and military) will be “Coming For Our Guns*”. (AND that they can beat them with their guns.)
* Something they always fantasized Obama had said, but which Trump ACTUALLY SAID, after the Stoneman Douglas Massacre.
I wouldn’t be surprised if… deep down, inside the head of a “#LawAndOrder” Trumptard…
They believe in the ProudBoys more than police… and even our Dear Military.
Deep down, they fear that Mammon might send the jackboots for THEM, after the Minorities.
But the ProudBoys would never “come for” them.
How ironic, considering how in the last half-century Jews in the USA have enjoyed having both persecuted minority status and white privilege.
Strange how all the comments and behavior in this article remind me so much of that described in a little book written a few years ago by a single-reed jazz musician.
I feel the Ukraine will draw the next Exodus of Jews. Why not? Here in Maryland, having Jews just means more bacon and steamed crabs for the rest of us. Although I suspect many a crab cake has been sneaked in when no one was watching.
Maybe these Jews are aware of something that none of us are, just like before 9/11. Keep your eyes on Larry Silverstein. If he vacates the country for an extended vacation, something’s up. May Heaven help us all.
We are seeing your neighbors, however, marking around with swastika’s and demanding the Jews ‘be dealt with.’ Nobody is making that up. If you sleep with Nazis, expect to wake up with a sore backside.
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