By: Jessica Pleskach
Immigration and voting rights has been a longstanding political issue in the United States. Under current law, non-citizens are not legally allowed to vote in federal elections even though no United States Court has actually found the practice unconstitutional. Some states have, however, upheld local laws granting non-residents the right to vote in local elections.
This indeed is a step in the right direction. Attainment of political rights by immigrants is a crucial pre-requisite to their success in battles for economic, social and civil rights.
Non-citizen immigrants should be allowed to vote in state and local elections. Basic democratic principles hold that a community can only bind members by its laws and require their support through taxes if it allows them to participate in politics. State and local governments treat non-citizens like other community members by requiring residents to pay income taxes regardless of their immigration status. Immigrants here both legally and illegally work in every sector of the economy. They contribute to the economic system through their aggregate demand for goods and services by owning properties, renting properties, buying groceries, buying clothing, etc. Furthermore, their spending ripples through the economy, creating jobs and generating revenue for businesses and governments.
Non-citizens have the same stake and interest in a community’s political decisions as that of any citizen. If immigrants lack voting rights, then politicians can ignore their interests. Non-citizens have legitimate interests in a community’s political process and need the protections that come with it. Most immigrants want to become citizens, but the average time it takes for the naturalization process takes at least eight years, sometimes longer. This is a long time to go without a vote. Voting is an important means of becoming incorporated and engaged in a community, not merely the outcome of becoming integrated.
The right to vote helps keep our democracy inclusive and fair. If the United States is truly an inclusive democracy we must ensure that immigrants have every opportunity to participate in the policy-making process by providing them the resources to vote and actually allowing them to vote.
Ron Hayduk, Noncitizens voting? It’s only fair, Providence Journal (2015).