Immigrants permitted to work in US could move one step closer to NYC voting rights

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NEW YORK — With battles over voting rights being waged across the country, the New York City Council is poised to enter the fray in a potentially big way.

On Monday, the council is set to review a measure that would give the vote to hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers who currently don’t have it — noncitizen immigrants.

The bill, which is being sponsored by Councilman Ydanis Rodriguez, would allow noncitizens who have green cards or other documentation to vote in local elections.

“We have the votes to pass it. We have the opportunity to make the city a role model for the nation, and this is a moment we should not lose,” Rodriguez, a Democrat who represents immigrant-rich Washington Heights, told the Daily News. “This is about addressing taxation without representation.”

The bill, which was introduced in January 2020, would confer the vote by amending the City Charter to allow residents with green cards and noncitizen work authorizations to cast ballots in mayoral and other city races. It would not, however, give noncitizen immigrants the ability to vote in national elections, which is restricted under federal law.

If enacted, it would give more than 600,000 New Yorkers the opportunity to vote in city elections.

Since President Joe Biden took control of the White House from Donald Trump last November, Republicans have moved aggressively to roll back voting rights in red states. According to the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University, 18 states — 17 of which have legislatures under Republican control — have enacted laws imposing restrictions on voting access, particularly when it comes to mail-in ballots. Biden and fellow Democrats have vowed to push back by enacting a federal law that protects voting rights across the board, but those efforts have so far stalled in Congress.

The City Council bill would have no quantifiable effect on national or state elections, but Rodriguez contends it would serve to not only empower immigrants, but as a rallying cry to progressives outside the Big Apple.

“It will be huge and important at a moment when voters’ rights are being attacked in other states,” he said. “This is an opportunity for Mayor (Bill) de Blasio to leave his legacy.”

De Blasio said Friday that there are two problems with the bill, foremost among them is that he doesn’t believe “it is legal.”

“Our Law Department is very clear on this,” he said. “I really believe this has to be decided at the state level, according to state law. And two, I think there’s a real set of mixed feelings it generates in me about what’s the right way to approach this issue at the same time as we’re encouraging so many people to go through the full citizenship process, which is what we really need to achieve more and more.”

To vote in city elections, potential ballot casters would have to qualify as city residents, which under the current bill, is defined as noncitizens who are 18 and older, secured work authorization, and who have lived in the city for 30 days or longer.

Rodriguez, an immigrant who came to the U.S. from the Dominican Republic, has so far wrangled 33 co-sponsors onto the bill, including one from Public Advocate Jumaane Williams, who can’t vote on it. When he first introduced this version of the bill last year, it had 23 co-sponsors. An earlier version, which Rodriguez first floated in 2010, died before it could come to a vote.

The current number of supporters is plenty to get the bill through a Council vote, which is likely to take place next month — and, ultimately, to de Blasio’s desk. Still, support is not unanimous, both in the council and among conservatives.

Councilman Joe Borelli, R-Staten Island, said he’ll be voting against the bill, which, from his perspective, demonstrates how much the political climate has changed since de Blasio won the mayoral election eight years ago.

“It’s a good barometer of how far and how fast the city has moved to the left,” he said. “In 2013, few Democratic mayoral candidates supported it, and some took hard stances against it. Now it appears there is a majority.”

While Borelli plans to vote no, he noted he would support putting a citywide referendum on the issue directly to voters.

“Let current voters choose whether or not to dilute their voting power with those who have resided here for the 30 days or more,” he said.

Rep. Nicole Malliotakis, R-N.Y., whose parents came to America from Cuba and Greece, also opposes the measure and suggested it encourages immigrants to take shortcuts to citizenship.

She anticipates that, if passed, the bill would face challenges in court.

“As the daughter of immigrants, my parents came to this country and did things the right way,” she said. “We should be encouraging people to follow our laws and do immigration the right way.”

Many, more recent immigrants disagree.

Melissa John, a Bronx public school teacher who immigrated to New York from Trinidad, has had her green card for more than five years now and founded the advocacy group Represent WE last year to raise awareness about Rodriguez’s bill. She pushed back against Malliotakis, saying the bureaucracy surrounding immigration is less straightforward than it was years ago and that people like her should have the right to engage in city politics just as much as anyone who’s native-born.

“I’m not taxed any differently because I’m a green card holder,” she said. “I’m a teacher, and I think about how I always stand in front of all my Black and brown students and tell them it’s important that you are seen and you are heard. And here I am, their classroom teacher, and I am not seen and I am not heard.”

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