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The D.C. Council, the legislative body representing Washington, D.C., sent a set of bills to Mayor Muriel Bowser’s desk on Tuesday, one of which will allow illegal immigrants to vote in local elections.
The bill allowing illegal immigrants to vote passed on a near-unanimous 12-1 vote following its first reading earlier this week, after languishing in the city council for a decade. It expands previous legislation which allowed green-card holders to vote.
Councilman Charles Allen, chairman of the Judiciary Committee, said he sponsored the bill because the issue of representation is “personal” to D.C. residents.
“In the District [of Columbia], we understand disenfranchisement,” Allen said during the committee vote.
“We know what it feels like to be taxed without representation. That people we didn’t elect make decisions that deeply affect our lives,” he said.
Local activist groups such as DC Latino Caucus as well as D.C. for Democracy were active in pushing for the issue. “Passage of this bill means that, for the first time in our lives, I and thousands of D.C. residents—immigrants who live, work, and pay taxes in the District—will be able to vote,” a local organizer and member of the Democratic Socialists of America, Abel Amene, said.
The only dissenting opinion upon first reading was councilwoman Mary Cheh, who understood it was an uphill battle. “Futility is not my goal here,” Cheh told the DCist. “Could someone who was put on a bus from Texas and dropped off at the vice president’s property … then vote in our local elections?” Cheh reportedly asked.
“Cheh’s ‘questions’ are rooted in age-old xenophobia and racism,” Amene wrote to the Washington Post following the vote. “Immigrants are not ‘complete strangers.’ They are our neighbors, family and friends.”
Maryland has been one of the states leading the charge to expand the vote to illegal migrants. If the bill is ratified, Washington D.C. will join neighboring Hyattsville and Takoma Park in having laws in place that will allow non-citizens to vote in local elections. New York City passed similar legislation to allow illegal immigrants to vote last year but it was struck down as unconstitutional by a state Supreme Court judge in June.
Texas Republican representative August Pfluger denounced the development. “If you’re in the United States illegally, you don’t have the right to vote—period. Liberals in Washington, D.C. who want to allow noncitizens to vote are putting the integrity of our election system at risk. My bill will put a stop to it. Americans deserve confidence in our elections and to know that only legal citizens are voting in the United States of America.” Pfluger introduced a bill last week to block the motion.
There are believed to be over 50,000 illegals in the District of Columbia. The bill was passed alongside another initiative that would make mail-in voting a permanent feature of elections.