‘No taxation without representation’ — Noncitizens rally for NYC voting rights

January 24, 2020 Emma Whitford
Menchaca non-citizen voting rights
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More than 100 immigrants and their advocates gathered outside City Hall on Thursday afternoon to support new legislation that would extend municipal voting rights to green card holders and noncitizens with work authorization in the United States. 

Attendees held signs that read “One city, one vote” in English, Spanish and Bengali, and chanted, “No taxation without representation” as activists and local lawmakers described how noncitizens have been excluded from government.  

“I can tell you what’s un-American,” sponsor Ydanis Rodriguez of Upper Manhattan told the crowd. “Denying people who pay their taxes the right to choose their representative that will determine where their money is allocated; what schools and parks and senior centers will receive funding. It is un-American to leave them out of that process.” 

About 660,000 immigrants in New York City hold Green Cards, according to the Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs’ 2018 Annual Report. They make up the bulk of New Yorkers who would receive voting rights under the measure. 

noncitizen voting rights
Scenes from the voting rights rally. Photo: Paul Frangipane/Brooklyn Eagle

In both Brooklyn and Queens, roughly a quarter of immigrants are Green Card or visa holders, according to MOIA. 

There are an estimated 184,000 undocumented New Yorkers living in Queens, and another 127,000 in Brooklyn, who would not be enfranchised. 

Already, 27 City Council members say they will support Rodriguez’s bill, according to the newly-formed Our City, Our Vote coalition. Co-sponsors include Queens Council members Danny Dromm of Jackson Heights and I. Daneek Miller of Jamaica, and Brooklyn Council member Carlos Menchaca in Sunset Park. 

Council Speaker Corey Johnson expressed some hesitation during an unrelated press conference Thursday. “Given that it is really important that we do things by the book… I’m going to sit down with the lawyers here, and sit down with Ydanis, and have a conversation about what’s doable,” he said. 

The legislation could take effect as soon as 2021 — a major local election year for New York City. In addition to the mayoral election, the majority of City Council members will be term-limited out of office. 

“The shift in the Council really [makes] an opportunity for us to create an alignment with neighborhoods that have just felt disconnected from the current administration,” Menchaca told the Eagle Thursday. 

Noncitizens with documentation would also be able to vote for ballot initiatives, and other local offices like the comptroller, public Advocate and borough president. 

Policarpo Cortez, a 66-year-old fruit and vegetable vendor from Sunset Park, attended Thursday’s rally and told the Eagle through a Spanish translator that he hopes to vote for the first time. 

“Public transit is definitely an issue,” said Cortez, a member of the Street Vendor Project. “Immigration issues, as well as public education.” 

Rodriguez’s bill states that eligible voters must reside in New York for 30 days before registering. The bill also requires a community education campaign, and special training for poll workers. 

New York became one of the first states in the country to ban noncitizen voting in 1804, according to CUNY researchers at the Colin Powell School for Civic and Global Leadership. 

noncitizen voting rights
Local politicians and community members gather on the steps of City Hall support voting rights for New Yorkers with Green Card immigration status. Photo: Paul Frangipane/Brooklyn Eagle

This is not the first time city lawmakers have introduced legislation to enfranchise immigrants. 

From 1968 until 2003, New Yorkers could vote in school board elections regardless of immigration status. 

And between 2005 and 2015, four City Council bills would have enfranchised documented noncitizens, with varying requirements for length of residency. 

Dromm sponsored re-enfranchisement bills in the early aughts. He told the Eagle Thursday that, despite wide support in 2010, then-Council Speaker Christine Quinn did not put his bill to a vote. “She wasn’t on it,” he said. “I don’t think she supported it.” 

“Then we got [President Donald] Trump elected and I was nervous about putting [a bill] forward because we were thinking of putting undocumented folks on the bill,” Dromm added. “We feared it could lead to some kind of federal exposure.” 

The energy feels different this year, Dromm told the Eagle. “There was a huge crowd out there,” he said after the press conference. “To be honest with you, I hadn’t had such a crowd” rallying for prior iterations of the bill. 

“I think this really is the right time because New York has looked very seriously in recent years at voting and voting reform,” added Nora Moran, policy director for United Neighborhood Houses, a coalition leader along with the New York Immigration Coalition. “We now have early voting in New York, we’re going to have rank choice voting in New York City soon. We’ve got a big campaign on education around the 2020 Census, so now really feels like a natural next step to build on that momentum.” 

Though Rodriguez’s legislation has broad early Democratic support, moderate Queens Councilmember Robert Holden of Middle Village has already joined Republican colleagues in opposing the bill. In a statement to the Eagle, Holden suggested that immigrants, who make up more than a third of the city’s population, are a “foreign influence.” 

“We’re now inviting foreign influence into elections in a city where we’ve seen local races be decided by very narrow margins,” he said. “I believe that citizens are the only people who should have the right to vote.” 

Julia Arredondo, a spokesperson for Mayor Bill de Blasio, told the Eagle that the Mayor’s Office has yet to review the legislation. 

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  1. Howard Graubard

    article could use clarification. “From 1968 until 2003, New Yorkers could vote in school board elections regardless of immigration status.” –only if they had children in public schools and registered as “parent voters”

  2. Bob Blaylock

      Democrats speak with forked tongues.

      With one tip of their tongues, they’ve spent the last three years pushing absurd conspiracy theories which falsely accuse the President of having solicited foreign interference in our election process.

      And here, with the other tip of their forked tongues, they can be clearly seen soliciting foreign interference in our election process.

      Who do they think they are fooling?