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Noncitizens’ Right to Vote In Municipal Elections Becomes Law in New York City

On Behalf of | Jan 24, 2022 | Immigration Court |

The year 2021 presented immigrants in the United States with some major ups and downs. At the start of his presidency, President Biden wasted no time reversing many of Trump’s most controversial immigration policies. Biden’s administration has also initiated several immigration reform acts including the U.S. Citizenship Act, The American Dream and Promise Act of 2021 and the Build Back Better Plan, which would have provided work permits and protection from deportation for nearly seven million undocumented immigrants with longstanding ties to the United States. Although none of these bills are law, many legislators remain committed to trying to get something passed.

A New Law Gives New York City Immigrants The Right To Vote

Now, a change much closer to home marks a historical moment for New York and a huge win for immigrants. More than approximately 800,000 noncitizens and “Dreamers” in New York City will gain the right to cast ballots in municipal elections as soon as next year after Mayor Eric Adams allowed legislation approved by the City Council to automatically become law.

Mayor Adams, a staunch supporter of immigrant communities, had initial concerns about the 30 consecutive day residency requirement, uncertain this was a long enough time period to warrant the privilege to vote. But after long discussions with trusted colleagues, and in recognition of the state law requiring an individual to reside in the county, village or state where they are registered for at least 30 days, Adams gave his full support.

Who Gets To Vote

In summary, the measure will allow noncitizens who have been lawful permanent residents of the city for at least 30 days, as well as those authorized to work in the U.S. including Dreamers, the right to vote in primary and general elections for the city’s mayor, city council members, borough presidents, comptroller and public advocate. The law does not allow noncitizens to vote in state or federal elections. By July, The Board of Elections will devise a plan including voter registration rules and provisions, that will create separate ballots for municipal races to prevent noncitizens from voting in federal and state contests.

Both Maryland and Vermont already have towns that allow noncitizens to cast ballots in local elections, but several including Alabama, Arizona, Colorado and Florida have adopted rules that would preempt such laws in their states.

“We build a stronger democracy when we include the voices of immigrants,” said former City Councilmember Ydanis Rodriguez, who led the charge to win approval for the legislation.

Unless a judge halts its implementation, New York City will be the first major U.S. city to grant widespread municipal voting rights to noncitizens.

Supporters vs. Opponents

Although City Council approved the legislation a month ago, opponents have vowed to challenge the new law. They believe the Council lacks the authority to grant voting rights to noncitizens and should have first sought approval by state lawmakers. The opponents, including the Republican National Committee, are challenging the law claiming it is unconstitutional. The RNC went as far as filing a lawsuit against the mayor, City Council and the Board of Elections citing “American elections should be decided by American citizens.”

On the other side of the coin, supporters see the opposition as another attempt to limit voting rights. Murad Awawdeh, the executive director the New York Immigration Coalition, is hoping the bill is the start of greater inclusion in the coming years claiming “ it’s the largest expansion to our democracy in the past century.”

Noncitizens Must Be Wary

Notwithstanding this local law, noncitizens must exercise extreme caution before participating in any election process. Immigration law is federally regulated, and as such, federal laws apply. Under INA 212(a)(10)(D)(i), any noncitizen who “has voted in violation of any Federal, State, or local constitutional provision, statute, ordinance, or regulation” is inadmissible; similarly, unlawful voting is ground of deportability under INA 237(a)(6)(A). Unlawful voting can also raise grounds of making a False Claim to US Citizenship, an independent ground for removal from the US. In short, unlawful voting can have a disastrous impact on one’s immigration status, potentially resulting in removal proceedings. Permanent residents can potentially be disqualified from naturalization, have their green cards revoked, and expelled. Those without status may be denied entry into the US or placed into immigration court. Given the drastic consequences of unlawful voting, any foreign national who has voted or is considering voting should consult with counsel to explore the potential ramifications of such conduct.

The above is general information only. It is not specific legal advice nor intended to create an attorney client relationship. If you need advice, please consult with an attorney.