By Guest Contributor Fatoumata Waggeh
Fatoumata Waggeh, Esq. is a Litigation Associate at Shearman & Sterling. She is a recipient of the firm’s “Pro-Bono All-Star Award” for her energetic commitment to pro-bono work for justice. Fatoumata completed her undergraduate education at New York University (NYU) and her law degree at the University of Pennsylvania Law School. Prior to law school, she was a Civic Organizer at an African immigrant rights organization. Fatoumata is passionate about local politics, civil liberties, international law, racial justice and impact litigation.
My mother exercised her right to vote in 2009, exactly twenty years after immigrating from The Gambia to the Bronx, New York.1Throughout this paper, I will use the terms “Immigrant New York,” and “Immigrant New Yorkers” which is borrowed from the NYC’s Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs Annual Report, State of Our Immigrant City, at 6 (March 2018) https://www1.nyc.gov/assets/immigrants/downloads/pdf/moia_annual_report_2018_final.pdfA term coined by Hiroshi Motomura (Americans in Waiting: The Lost Story of Immigration and Citizenship in the United States by Hiroshi Motomura, Oxford University Press Inc. (2006)) It would take my father an additional five years to vote – a privilege he so eagerly awaited given his love for politics and inherent belief in American democracy, having escaped the verge of a dictatorial regime in the late 1980s. While my mother was just a year short of voting for the first African-American President of the United States, citizenship afforded her the opportunity to vote for the Mayor of a City she grew to call home. When my siblings and I turned eighteen, my parents consistently narrated to us the importance of exercising our civic duty – voting, they insisted, was an empowering political tool. It would take decades of uncertain immigration loopholes and living in the shadows before my parents were able to fully exercise their political power and voice, a sound privilege they revered.
This paper will provide a critical analysis of how localities, particularly cities, can be engineers of common-sense and just immigration reform through implementing policies and laws. Specifically, I will explore the efforts of the New York City Council to extend the franchise to noncitizen New Yorkers, through legislation Intro 1867. I will demonstrate the viability and constitutionality of municipal voting rights and insist that the participation of noncitizens in local democracy is a key and vigorous stepping stone to comprehensive immigrant reform. While federal supremacy and the Plenary Power Doctrine have guided our immigration system, localities are becoming powerful spaces for immigration regulation and innovation.2Juliet P. Stumpf, States of Confusion: The Rise of State and Local Power Over Immigration, 86 N.C.L. Rev. 1557, 1559 (2008) Primarily, as the power of local government is immense, my paper seeks to encourage the implementation of municipal voting rights in localities throughout the United States.
A Brief Historical Narrative: Local Actors, Power and Immigration
As the Constitution is primarily silent on the rights and responsibilities of noncitizens, the regulation and control of noncitizens has historically been deemed the authority of the federal government.3Stumpf, supra note 2, at 1564 Our Constitutional order has historically identified immigration as a matter of foreign policy, void of any domestic regulation and a traditional power of the federal government.4Id. at 1564 In early-colonial America, states were able to exercise control over immigration affairs; specifically, it functioned as a concurrent power exercised between the state and federal government.5 Id. at 1569 Arguably, this was a period in which America’s immigration apparatus was less racialized and functioned primarily as a British imperial tool of westward expansion.
Stemming from the Marshall Court’s establishment of judicial supremacy, which advanced a doctrine of discovery, in the late nineteenth century there was a shift to a rise of federal supremacy over immigration affairs, birthing the Plenary Power Doctrine. In Chy Lung v. Freeman, the Court struck down a California statute regulating the migration of Chinese nations, insisting that the federal government reserved supreme powers over immigration affairs.6Id. at 1571 In 1889, the Court further developed such a jurisprudence in Chae Chan Ping v. United States, in which the Court asserted that the “…political branches had nearly unlimited power to exclude non-citizens seeking entry into the United States.”7Id. at 1572 The Court located this power in the inherent sovereignty of the federal government – limitless power in which the government is not constrained by the Constitution or other legal source.8Id. at 1572
Here, the Court was articulating the Plenary Power Doctrine, a jurisprudence the Court invariably advances in the areas of national security, foreign affairs, Indian affairs and immigration affairs.9Stumpf, supra note 2, at 1572 In United States v. Curtiss-Wright Export Corp., the Court elucidated the doctrine; it avers that the Constitution’s restraints on the federal government is only true for internal affairs and federal authority operates independently of the Constitution.10Sarah H. Cleveland, Powers Inherent in Sovereignty: Indians, Aliens, Territories, and the Nineteenth Century Origins of Plenary Powers Over Foreign Affairs, 81 Tex. L. Rev. 1, 2 (2002) Constitutional principles of separation of powers, enumerated powers and federalism are controlling only for domestic affairs.11Id. at 8 Such a power over external affairs is inherent in the nation’s existence as a sovereign – it is an extra-constitutional source of power.12Id. at 8 As such, when reviewing decisions on issue-areas, such as immigration, the Court must exercise limited judicial review in order to assert and revere federal authority.13Id. at 8 The doctrine abolished all forms of Constitutional protections and obligations for noncitizens, as courts would systematically defer to the political branches; freedoms such as free speech and Equal Protection became inaccessible for immigrants.14Stumpf, supra note 2, at 1573 This enabled federal power to preempt state action and resulted in the annihilation of states as actors of immigration affairs. 15Id. at 1573
In the late 1970s, as America witnessed the development of a robust Equal Protection jurisprudence, “the domestication of immigration law” was reincarnated.16Id. at 1583 This period provides us with the contemporary rise of cities, states and other localities controlling and regulating noncitizens.17Id. at 1562 As federal immigration policy expanded into areas that were distinctly of state and local concerns – employment, welfare and criminal law – this resulted in the rise of local power over immigration affairs.18Id. at 1583 Virtually, localities began to exercise immigration influence, as immigration policy and enforcement encroached into the traditional areas of the state.19Id. at 1583 Immigration became codified as a domestic issue that was no longer solely a border control project –a foreign affairs issue– but inherently the regulation of the migrant labor market.20Stumpf, supra note 2, at 1584 In 1974, Congress amended the Farm Labor Contractor Registration Act (FLCRA), which “..prohibit[ed] farm labor contractors from employing aliens without work authorization.”21Id. at 1583 Subsequently, in 1986 Congress passed the Immigration Reform and Control Act (ICRA), with the objective of “..curb[ing] unauthorized immigrants by sanctioning employers who hired undocumented immigrants.”22 Id. at 1583
In 1996, Congress redesigned welfare law– transforming immigration from foreign policy to domestic affairs– through its passage of the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act (PRWORA), which “…sought to deter legal immigrants from relying on social services by permitting states to deny a range of public benefits to noncitizens.”23 Id. at 1584 PRWORA empowered states to deny benefits to immigrants and also enforced new measures to prevent an admitted person from becoming a “public charge.”24 Id. at 1585 Also, it mandated states to report to the federal immigration agency the information of undocumented residents.25 Id. at 1585 Traditionally, welfare law, policy and design remained reserved for the states; the introduction of federal control of it, through immigration, resulted in the dispensing of immigration power to states.26Stumpf, supra note 2, at 1586 In the ability to report undocumented individuals, enforcement and regulation of immigration law was redefined as a concurrent power shared with state actors.27 Id. at 1586
As the crimmigration apparatus was built, resulting in the over-policing and rampant criminalization of poor immigrants of color, immigration law was reinvented into the sphere of state control and regulation.28 Id. at 1587 Stemming from the mid-1980s, criminal law norms were imported into immigration law, fueling a deportation machine:29 Id. at 1587 “…minor state and federal crimes…trigger[ed] deportation, including theft, trafficking in fraudulent documents, tax evasion, forgery…and offenses related to skipping bail.”30 Id. at 1587 Statutory definitions of crimes by states became key grounds for upholding deportation for a conviction.31 Id. at 1593 Federal immigration actors began to inspect state statutory definitions of crimes to establish a claim for deportation either through the crime involving moral turpitude (CMIT) or aggravated felony, as construed under the Immigration and Nationality Act.32Stumpf, supra note 2, at 1593 As such, immigration regulation inherently shifted to state actors, as “[state] legislators and courts can often affect whether the deportation grounds apply by adjusting the scope of the definition or length of the sentence.”33 Id. at 1593 Essentially, the crimmigration infrastructure is maintained by federally-defined immigration law intersecting with state-defined criminal law, congenitally restoring state power to immigration law and rebirthing its domestication:34 Id. at 1594 “…the very fabric of crimmigration law combines federal and state law: the warp is federally-defined immigration law and the woof is state-defined criminal law.”35Id. at 1594
Today, cities and states are concurrent actors of immigration law, control and enforcement.36Id. at 1559 As the constitutional and historical narrative stated above insists, localities are empowered to exercise greater control over the movement, social circumstances and criminalization of immigrant persons.37Id. at 1559 Respectively, as “immigrant integration is a distinctly local matter,”38Lauren Gilbert, Reconceiving Citizenship: Noncitizen Voting in New York City Municipal Elections as a Case Study in Immigrant Integration and Local Governance, J. on Migration & Hum. Sec. 223, 228 (2014) and the power of local government is immense, localities can reach its migrant residents directly and effectually.39Id. at 228 After all, “[it] is [at] the local level that people work, seek police protection, send children to school, and advocate for safer, healthier neighborhoods.”40Id. at 228 In essence, localities are actively managing and designing the daily realities of immigrants. Particularly, as the federal government’s ability to create a broad and dynamic solution for immigration reform remains weak, “the domestication of immigration law” empowers localities to either fix a broken system or further cripple immigrant rights.41Id. at 228 Appropriately, cities and states have assumed such roles:42Id. at 228 “…state and local governments have taken the regulation of immigration into their own hands.”43Id. at 228
Historical, Constitutional and Structural Debates Surrounding Municipal Voting Rights
Municipal voting rights is part of a larger historical trajectory of the expansion and contraction of voting rights in the United States.44Jamin B. Raskin, Legal Aliens, Local Citizens: The Historical, Constitutional and Theoretical Meanings of Alien Suffrage, 141 U. Pa. L. Rev. 1391, 1393 (1993) The American Constitutional order was formulated by property-owning white men who furthered and participated in the racist institutionalization of African slavery.45Id. at 1393 As such, the franchise proactively excluded the interests of “…people from political membership on the basis of property, wealth, race and gender.”46Id. at 1393 It was designed to further the privileges of a limited subset of society, resulting in a contraction of voting rights to a limited and select few.47Id. at 1393 This enabled the facilitation of the American imperial project – the dispossessing of Native lands and forced labor of enslaved Africans for the new nation’s economic prosperity. Gradually, the political franchise was expanded to include those formerly excluded:48Id. at 1393 “We have seen the franchise extend over the years to include people without taxable income, African-Americans, women.” 49Id. at 1393
While the franchise secluded women, enslaved Africans, indigenous persons and non-property owners, alien suffrage for white male immigrants was also part of the early American design.50Raskin, supra note 44, at 1397 During the 19th Century, white male immigrants were able to exercise the right to vote in local elections in at least twenty-two states or territories.51Id. at 1397 A surge in anti-immigrant rhetoric at the turn of the 20th Century resulted in its decline – Arkansas was the last state to end it in 1926.52Id. at 1397 While warfare has historically been the political climax to open the franchise for second-class citizens and other marginal groups– as is evident in the suffrage of African-Americans and women– for alien suffrage, it has resulted in its abolishment.53Id. at 1398 Specifically, the xenophobia fueled by World War I led to the death of the practice.54Id. at 1398
After American Independence, the practice continued55Id. at 1399 and immigrants who “..met the appropriate property, wealth, race, religion, and gender tests possessed the right to vote.”56Raskin, supra note 44, at 1399 States that institutionalized the practice allowed such persons to “…[vote] at all levels of American government, thereby turning them, explicitly or implicitly into ‘citizens’ of the state itself.”57Id. at 1397 Inherently, states were empowered to recognize and construct their own definitions of political-membership and citizenship, which was constructed in a manner different from the national government.58Id. at 1398 This is a reflection of American federalism:59Id. at 1397 “…a period of American federalism of states as sovereign political entities.”60Id. at 1397 During such a period, three different theories of citizenship governed states’ implementation of the practice: citizenship as presence, citizenship as integration and citizenship as standing.61Id. at 1398 Citizenship as presence insists that all persons who engage in the communal life of the local community are citizens.62Raskin, supra note 44, at 1398 Citizenship as integration asserts that assimilating aliens to local society is a public policy;63Id. at 1398 in contrast, citizenship as standing suggests that “…the right to vote is an emblem of public recognition and respect even more than it is an instrument for exercising political power.”64Id. at 1398
Arguably, as Raskin suggests, the practice of suffrage for noncitizens in early America was fundamentally a political tool to maintain and further white male power within the political apparatus. It existed primarily for the development of the American colonial project and it was during a time in which immigration was not racialized. Inherently, as Raskin highlights, the practice was sustained for such a long period of time because it did not implicate the racial and gender questions –identity-politics questions— that it would today. Today, migrants to the United States represent a color of nations and identities – noncitizen New Yorkers are not solely white European men. Also, in contemporary America, our crimmigration system, as Stumpf gestures, has birthed a racialized and derogatory image of who is an immigrant – a caricature that paints immigrants as criminals threatening our national security and depriving benefits and other privileges from the American people. A national government that has vigorously insisted on the institutionalization of border control, refugee entry restrictions and the amelioration of protected status for immigrants has further stigmatized immigrants and contributed to the dangerous public image of immigrants. Given the history of noncitizen suffrage in early American history, municipal voting rights are in fact feasible. After all, as Raskin argues, it was a practice that was part of the American governing structure and was widely-accepted by many states. However, a hurdle to its implementation is the stereotypical perceptions of who is an immigrant and the effects that immigrants have on American society.
As the history of noncitizen suffrage avers, state citizenship is a concept that has been established in the Constitution and affirmed by Supreme Court precedent.65Gilbert, supra note 38, at 235 The Supreme Court, federal courts and state courts did not declare alien suffrage unconstitutional while it was practiced in early America.66Raskin, supra note 44, at 1417 Additionally, as the 14th Amendment was instrumental in constitutionalizing national citizenship; in so doing, it did not abolish state citizenship, rather it preserved it.67Gilbert, supra note 38, at 235 Essentially, “…it, both guaranteed and reaffirmed state citizenship…[and] it also recognized state citizenship as distinct from national citizenship.”68Id. at 235 The Supreme Court has consistently approved that American citizenship is multitudinous:69Id. at 235 states and localities have the power to “…extend greater protections to members of their communities, as long as federal baselines are met.”70Id. at 235 In Dred Scott v. Sandford, the Supreme Court maintained state citizenship;71Raskin, supra note 44, at 1417 for the Court, local citizenry is “…a [right] of citizenship which a State may confer within its own limits” – distinguishable from national citizenship.72Id. at 1417 The Court states, “Each state may confer [all rights and privileges of the citizen of a state] upon an alien, or any one it thinks proper…yet he would not be a citizen in the sense in which that word is used in the Constitution of the United States.”73Id. at 1417 It further recognizes the existence of noncitizen suffrage to uphold its argument on state citizenship.74Id. at 1417 Basically, the Court asserts that the Constitution governs national personhood – states are empowered to establish distinct notions of personhood.75Id. at 1417
Clearly, localities are within their discretion to broaden their scope of protections, granting them the authority to shape independent understandings of citizenship.76Gilbert, supra note 38, at 235 While cases such as Dred Scott v. Sandford are viewed skeptically within our constitutional canon on equal rights, its principles on state citizenship are constant.77Raskin, supra note 44, at 1417 Also, Supreme Court precedent suggests that states are the prime engineers of their governing structures.78Gilbert, supra note 38, at 235 This suggests the constitutionality of Intro. 1867, as states are within their powers to construct separate meanings of citizenship,79Id. at 235 as long as “…federal baselines are met.”80Id. at 235 New York City and other localities are empowered to broaden the protection and privileges of a citizen by including the municipal voter, as national citizenship is distinct from state citizenship.81Id. at 235 After all, the fundamental charge in the 14th Amendment is that United States citizens are all persons who are born or naturalized in the country are citizens of the nation and their respective state – it is intrinsically silent on state citizenship.82Id. at 235
Furthermore, as states may design independent citizenry schemes, the Constitution also does not specify any qualifications for voting in state elections.83Raskin, supra note 44, at 1419 A textualist reading of the Constitution demonstrates such a silence.84Id. at 1419 Under Article 2, Section 1, Clause 5, the founders detail the requirements for engagement in federal politics; specifically, citizenry as a requirement for Presidency.85Id. at 1419 Such a citizenry requirement is turned in Article 1, Section 2, Clause 2 for election to the House of Representative – enabling political leadership by citizens and naturalized persons of the nation.86Id. at 1420 Additionally, the Seventh Amendment states “…that the United States Senators shall be elected ‘by the people’ of the states and that the ‘electors in each State shall have the qualifications requisite for electors of the most numerous branch of the State legislatures.’”87Id. at 1420 In all of the above provisions, which are the foundation of our Constitutional electoral rights, state voting and citizenry is primarily silent.88Id. at 1419 Even if narrowly construed, the text of the Constitution does not explicitly define state voting schemes:89Raskin, supra note 44, at 1421 “It can be concluded from the juxtaposition of the Framer’s specific and varying constitutional conditions for federal office-holding and their complete silence as to a citizenship qualification for federal voting that they did not intend to create a U.S. citizenship suffrage qualification.”90Id. at 1421 In addition, states are also protected against the federal government91Gilbert, supra note 38, at 229 – “…constitutional laws protects states against commandeering by the federal government.”92Id. at 229 Local governments are in fact autonomous93Id. at 229 – they may exercise a totality of freedom as long as “…a state’s constitution or laws provide.”94Id. at 229 Thus, municipal voting rights’ legality rests primarily on the authority that the local representatives can derive from the state constitution and other laws to enact it.95Id. at 231 Such a silence in the Constitution conveys that state constitutions and electoral law centrally govern the legality of the municipal voter category.96Id. at 231
The Case for Municipal Voting Rights in New York City and Other Localities
On December 10, 2021, the New York City Council triumphantly passed Intro. 1867, legislation to institutionalize municipal voting rights – extending the City’s franchise for over 1 million immigrant New Yorkers. Sponsored by thirty-six of the Council’s fifty-one members, the bill aims to create a new category of municipal voter. A municipal voter is defined as any lawful permanent residents and persons authorized to work in the United States who is a resident of the City and will have been a resident for 30 consecutive days or longer by the date of the election. The bill perseveres equality between noncitizen voters and citizen voters. It states, “…eligible municipal voters shall have the right to vote in municipal elections and shall be entitled to the same rights and privileges as U.S. citizen voters.” Now, noncitizen residents will have the power to actively shape New York City’s governing structure. Essentially, the legislation empowers them to build and harness their political power. This privilege will afford them the opportunity to interact with municipal institutions, build political pipelines and potentially, vote-in elected officials. “Immigrant New York” will now have a direct opportunity to influence the City that it has for so long contributed to culturally, socially and financially.
The New York City legal apparatus supports the passage of Intro. 1867. Although the New York State Constitution protects the voting rights of all United States citizens who are over the age of eighteen and satisfy New York residency, it does not limit participation in the franchise to such persons.97Gilbert, supra note 38, at 230 In contrast, the New York State Election Law specifically limits the franchise – for all elections – to United States citizens.98Id. at 231 It provides: “No person shall be qualified to register for and vote at any election unless he is a citizen of the United States.”99Id. at 231 However, embedded within the election law is a “savings clause” or “reverse preemption,”100Id. at 231 which offers that “if there is a conflict between the state election law and ‘any other law,’ the later prevails, unless the election law specifically provides that it should prevail.”101Id. at 231 As such, while Intro. 1867 may disagree with the New York State Election law, it is still legal, as the state constitution would supersede it.102Id. at 231
As federal law criminalizes noncitizens for voting in any federal elections, the New York Board of Elections would need to enact procedural protections to ensure that noncitizens are specifically voting for municipal elections.103Gilbert, supra note 38, at 230 A state constitution, law or local ordinance that establishes noncitizen voting for municipal purposes is not a criminal act.104Id. at 230 However, under immigration law, it is punishable for a noncitizen to vote in a federal election, rendering any such person inadmissible or deportable.105Id. at 230 New York City can formulate systems such as constructing a different ballot for noncitizens or holding local elections at a different time of year than national elections to assure that noncitizens are safeguarded.106Id. at 230 The Board of Election will also be required to train poll-workers and the City would need to further voter education informing noncitizens of the sanctions that can result in violation of the federal rule.107Id. at 230 The Council may implement town hall meetings or listening sessions throughout boroughs and districts to help further voter education.108Id. at 246
All in all, federal law nor state law are barriers for institutionalizing noncitizen municipal voting.109Gilbert, supra note 38, at 229 This empowers city governments vigorous opportunity to “…serve as [a] lab and experiment with immigration.”110Id. at 229 Other localities have assumed such a role as engineers of sensible immigration reform by mandating noncitizen voting.111Id. at 236 Several cities in Massachusetts, including Cambridge, Brookline, Wayland and Amherst, proposed noncitizen voting but were unsuccessful as the state did not adopt an enabling legislation, required under state law.112Id. at 236 In 2010, Portland Maine, the League of Young Voters championed a campaign to have noncitizen voting.113Id. at 238 However, after the City Council held a public hearing to review the proposed law, a referendum was defeated, by 52 to 48 percent.114Id. at 238 The prime concerns for excluding Portland’s growing refugee and immigrant community from political participation was a fear of the burdensome reliance of such persons on the locality’s public assistance program.115Gilbert, supra note 38, at 238
Takoma Park, Maryland serves as a successful example of the implementation and subsequent operation of the practice.116Id. at 236 The City Council initiated a “Share the Vote” campaign, which resulted in the adoption of municipal voting for the City’s 16,700 persons population in February of 1992.117Id. at 236 The City amended its charter to provide all residents the privilege to vote in all local elections and seek office for all local positions.118Raskin, supra note 44, at 1463 The roots of the campaign can be traced to 1990 when the Takoma Park Elections Task Force completed a council redistricting process119Id. at 1463 and “…found that its new wards had equal numbers of residents as required by law, but that some wards had far more eligible voters than others because some contained a large alien population.”120Id. at 1463 Consequently, in September of 1991, the Takoma Park Council voted to place the issue on the ballot.121Id. at 1463 This fueled great debate in the City: proponents of the amendment noted the importance of democratic principles of participation and opponents, furthering xenophobia, maintained that voting in all elections is a privilege solely reserved for citizens.122Id. at 1464 Today, noncitizen voting is in practice in Takoma Park for over 20 years and it has survived coordinated efforts to abolish it, including failed attempts by members of Maryland House of Delegates to enact legislation prohibiting the practice on the premise that it is a threat to national security.123Takoma Park stands by non-U.S. citizen voting law by Aaron Krut, The Washington Post (March 14, 2012) https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/takoma-park-stands-by-non-us-citizen-voting-law/2012/03/13/gIQAVBcgBS_story.html?noredirect=on&utm_term=.ab5e8ec25eef Also, the City’s website thoroughly details the process that noncitizens must complete in order to be eligible to vote; the application specifies the requirements and the penalties of violating the rule.124City of Takoma Park, Maryland Voter Registration Application, https://cityclerk-takomapark.s3.amazonaws.com/election/TP-noncitizen-Voter-Registration-Application-rev.09-26-2016-fillable.pdf
In addition to the constitutional and structural hypothesis that further the legality of municipal voting, normative and prudential theories support its practice. First, the American democracy is founded under the principle of “rule by the people.”125Raskin, supra note 44, at1391 As “the people” is not limited to a set category of membership126Gilbert, supra note 38, at 237, democracy can be reimagined by localities to include persons “…who have demonstrated a commitment to their communities and the country.”127Id. at 237 A pure understanding of democracy insists that citizenship should not be a precursor to political engagement – all persons in a confined jurisdiction, particularly, those who are tax-payers and beneficiaries of local services, are entitled to shape their political systems, as such systems are equally responsible to them.128Id. at 237 Throughout history, our understanding of who constitutes “by the people” has evolved to include marginalized communities and can continue to be expanded to include our society’s contemporary second-class citizens – noncitizens.129Raskin, supra note 44, at 1393 At the core of the American tradition of political freedom is: “No Taxation without Representation.”130Id. at 1441 Such a philosophy “…makes noncitizen voting logically unassailable” given “the bedrock hostility of the liberal rights tradition to taxation and governance without representation.”131Id. at 1441 Every day, noncitizens navigate American society with the expectation and obligation to respect and abide by legal rules – creations not of their own – like citizens, but remain disenfranchised:132Id. at 1442 “Resident aliens are governed by our political institutions and are subject to all laws which apply to citizen…they must pay all taxes that citizens, pay.”133Id. at 1442 Our societal values – such as community safety and social responsibility—would also be better advanced if through suffrage, noncitizens are empowered to invest in their respective communities.134Id. at 1443 Arguably, individuals abide by the rules that they directly and indirectly formulate.135Raskin, supra note 44, at 1443
“Immigrant New York” who will be the recipient of municipal voting are in fact “Americans in waiting,”136Term coined by Hiroshi Motomura (Americans in Waiting: The Lost Story of Immigration and Citizenship in the United States by Hiroshi Motomura, Oxford University Press Inc. (2006) many of whom have resided in the City for decades but have failed to find a pathway towards citizenship, given an impaired immigration system.137Raskin, supra note 44, at 1393 Immigrants “…are generally here to stay.”138Id. at 1393 As the New York City Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs notes, approximately 50% of noncitizen New Yorkers have lived in the City for at least 20 years or more.139NYC’s Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs Annual Report, State of Our Immigrant City, at 14 (March 2018) https://www1.nyc.gov/assets/immigrants/downloads/pdf/moia_annual_report_2018_final.pdf For many, like my parents, America is part of their identity and they envision themselves as part of the respective communities that they have been part of since migrating. To deny such individuals of the right to vote, is to deprive them of their right of belonging and identity. As “immigration integration is ultimately a local matter,”140Gilbert, supra note 38, at 246 it will also be able to mobilize the assimilation of New Americans to their home communities – attachment and connection to a new space produces healthy and sustainable communal relationships.141Id. at 246 After all, the immigrant experience in the United States is colored with invisibility142Raskin, supra note 44, at 1455 – “political and social invisibility.” Municipal voting will humanize the immigrant reality and safeguard noncitizens from discriminatory practices, specifically, those sanctioned by the state:143Id. at 1456 “To exclude aliens is not only to render them more vulnerable to discriminatory legislation, but to stigmatize them as less worthy than citizens”144Id. at 1456 Thus, such a social recognition and political power will result in increased dignity and self-esteem.145Id. at 1455
Cities like New York City are defined by its immigrant life and contribution. Our country’s noncitizen population is robust and growing:146Gilbert, supra note 38, at 227 For example, “in many of New York City’s 51 districts, the percentage of noncitizens is much higher and in several districts immigrants make up close to a majority of residents.”147Id. at 227 Our country’s diverse pockets of New Americans have shaped the political, cultural, social and economic realities of the City. As New York has already extended measures to safeguard the rights of immigrants – iDNYC – municipal voting rights is the logical next-step, specifically, a crucial steppingstone of a larger local agenda that can protect immigrants in the age of anti-immigrant rhetoric. New York City government officials have promoted the idea of the City as a Sanctuary City – the realities of which are not true as noncitizens can exercise their political capital and have a direct role in building the City’s governance. “Immigrant New York” is primarily and notably progressive – in a rising conservative political apparatus, extending the franchise to noncitizens would also help protect progressive measures instituted in New York – universal childcare, municipal identification and a living wage. Lastly, as our national institutions are infatuated with political gridlock, municipal voting is necessary to mobilize greater immigration reform – it sets the foundation for aspirational immigration reform that is just, humanizing and common-sense.