By appropriating the term "self-deportation," Wahabzada recognizes the grotesque parody of agency she partakes in. She is well aware of its psychological ramifications, for herself and for her auditors. The "self" in deportation has a history as old as slavery, Indian removal, Jim Crow, and twentieth-century internal migrations. It is the obscured counterpart to government-orchestrated mass removals, leaving it up to states or municipalities, or private actors, to enforce a regime of "choke points" so unbearable that the migrant chooses to terminate life as he or she knows it. The term in its modern usage likely originated with a pair of Mexican-American satirists reacting to California's Proposition 187, which would have denied education and other services to migrants; Governor Pete Wilson soon borrowed it with the irony removed. When commentators acted surprised by Mitt Romney's solution of self-deportation in 2012, they ignored the slew of subfederal laws enacted all throughout the 2000s to make life so intolerable for migrants that they voluntarily chose the final solution. Of course, there is nothing voluntary about any of this, as we can tell by the rise of the term "voluntary departure" (which is considered a privilege granted to the immigrant), as the other side of the term "expedited removal," which came into currency with Bill Clinton's passage of the draconian 1996 anti-immigrant law establishing many new categories of inadmissibility.
Wahabzada well realizes the strong demonstration effect of her publicized auto-da-fe', as I am aware of my own much smaller act of enhancement of her self-immolation, which is all very much part of the subterfuge of agency suggested by the term. It is not that Stephen Miller needs to be educated about the history of his own ancestors escaping anti-Jewish pogroms in Russia at the turn of the last century, but that there's no amount of conformity that will qualify the excluded, regardless of cultural excellence. The same applies to Trump, whose current wife worked illegally before f inagling her way into legality by way of the extraordinary ability (genius) visa, and who then brought over her family in what is derided as chain migration, all without making any visible contributions. The demonstration effect on the border, where most of our attention remains focused on child separations, makes continuous self-deportation by those in possession of this distorted agency invisible, because they are mostly poorer and have no public voice.
Despite all this, I applaud Wahabzada for what I hope are her first steps toward liberation, and I wish there were more like her. I wish youth, when it has its chances, would always have the foresight to reframe a problem of contingency as one of opportunity. America is not the only claimant to the dream anymore. It is not even one of the last ones. For many, the dream has become a nightmare, but there is yet a passage through the difficult terrain which might perhaps take us to a different kind of dream, because this one sure is extinct. It is a great step forward to recognize this and move ahead. That is the last best hope of mankind.
A shorter version of this article appeared at CommonDreams.