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Rahm Emanuel: Absurd residency laws hit close to home

Is Rahm Emanuel a resident of Chicago? Well, he was born in Chicago, grew up in Chicago, was educated in Chicago and represented Chicago in Congress for three terms.

Yet he’s not ‘Chicago’ enough to run for Mayor?

The Illinois courts seem to think so. Because Emanuel did not physically reside in Chicago for the last 12 months, they disqualified him from this year’s mayoral race.

This absurd story runs parallel to many Third Culture Kid tales we hear on Denizen. My story is not unique: raised with American friends, educated in American schools, attended American university, yet cannot live or work in America without struggle because I was born on foreign soil.

Trying to put hard and fast rules to the terms “residency” or “citizenship” hurts everyone. Chicagoans lose the chance to vote for the frontrunner — Emanuel had 44 percent support according to polls, and $12 million in the bank. The American workforce loses talented, international, college-educated Third Culture Kids who are not given a fair chance at success. These TCKs who look, sound, and are American, face complicated immigration issues because of laws that were made to keep aliens away.

According to the Chicago residency rule, a person who has lived in New York until their 40th birthday could have rented an apartment in Chicago last year and run for mayor this year. And yet Emanuel cannot?

Chicago Tribune columnist Eric Zorn writes that these residency restrictions came about in the 19th century when high mobility and settlement caused fears about ‘outsiders’ coming in and manipulating local politics.

According to American immigration laws, a person who was born in America but has spent their entire lives in Hong Kong is allowed to live and work in the U.S. whenever they please. Meanwhile, a person who was raised in American communities their whole life has to fight to stay?

The Chicago Tribune calls the ruling “an absurd result‘ — a preposterous outcome unenvisioned and unintended by the crafters of the law.” But many laws surrounding immigration, residency and citizenship are absurd. As Third Culture Kids, we’re used to it.

To circumvent the ridiculous laws, Emanuel’s lawyers are now toying with the concept of “intent.” Did the former White House Chief of Staff really mean to come back to Chicago? Did him paying taxes in Chicago, owning property in Chicago, and leaving his wife’s wedding dress in Chicago make him a resident?

While they do this digging, let’s not forget that this born-and-bred Chicagoan was elected to Congress by the people of Chicago.

“Can a person dwell conceptually, or do they have to have a place to put their body?” Illinois Justice Thomas Hoffman asked in Emanuel’s case.

Watching Emanuel’s legal battle hits close to home, because as a Third Culture Kid, we deal with this every day, and we know how absurd these laws really are.

Steph Yiu is the founder of Denizen and has written about citizenship issues before in relation to the Haiti earthquake and 2010 Winter Olympics.

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