New York City has always been, and always will be, a city of immigrants.
As our city brims with anticipation for the passing of the Comprehensive Immigration Reform bill currently before the U.S. Senate, millions are mobilizing to voice their thoughts on this crucial piece of legislation. This spurring of civic-engagement models what we expect of New Yorkers: informed opinions, strong advocacy and a desire to participate in the democratic process with the intention of making society better for all.
At the City Council, we are working to provide all legal residents, immigrants and non-immigrants, the right to vote in city elections. Intro 410, currently set for a hearing on Thursday May 9th, will allow lawfully present, non-citizen, foreign born residents to vote in the mayoral race, city comptroller and public advocate races and city council and borough president races. There are now 35 Council Members signed on to Intro 410, with more signing on each day, an encouraging step towards full enfranchisement of all stakeholders in our city.
Under our current laws, one in five adult New York City residents cannot vote because they are not yet citizens. In our districts, there are large populations that do not have a voice in decisions that most directly impact their daily lives. These community members have, for example, no right to vote on matters concerning the education of their children, the safety of their neighborhoods, or the future of their communities. A system where thousands of taxpaying residents are disenfranchised is unfair, undemocratic, and un-American.
In a city with close to 3 million immigrants, we understand how important our immigrant population is in stimulating our local economies. According to a study by the Fiscal Policy Institute, there are over 69,000 immigrant small business owners, accounting for nearly half all small businesses in New York City. Across New York State, 1.3 million non-citizen immigrants are responsible for $229 billion in economic output, as measured by state, sales and real estate taxes.
When immigrants contribute so much to our local economy, they deserve the right to have a say in who will represent them and where their money is spent. They deserve the right to vote in local elections, lest we continue to violate the hallowed American creed of “no taxation without representation”.
This would not be the first time non-citizens had a right to vote. There have been twenty states that did not restrict state or local voting rights based on citizenship. Internationally, more than 40 countries allow some form of non-citizen voting. Here in New York City, we allowed all parents of public school children to vote for their school boards from 1969 until 2003, when the school boards were abolished.
Extending voting rights has another practical benefit. Including immigrants in the democratic process will help integrate them into our communities and better prepare them for when they finally complete the long process to become citizens. If someone feels they have a say in what happens, they are more likely to care for their community. Immigrants need to be integrated into society rather than disenfranchised and disaffected.
We must act now to restore immigrant voting rights in local elections. It is important for all of us to make decisions together. Immigrant or American-born, we each have a valuable voice and when all of us are permitted to engage in the political process our communities become stronger.
New York City Council Member, 25th District
Chair, Immigration Committee
New York City Council Member, 10th District
Chair, Higher Education Committee