Critics Say Illegal Immigrant Voting Degrades Citizenship

Critics say illegal immigrants voting degrades citizenship

By Liz Mineo
The MetroWest Daily News (Framingham, MA), April 9, 2009

Framingham, MA — Advocates praised state Rep. Pam Richardson's idea to give illegal immigrants voting rights in local elections, while critics say it rewards lawbreakers with a right that should only be available to U.S. citizens.

'It degrades the citizenship process and the meaning of citizenship,' said Jessica Vaughan, director of policy studies for the Center for Immigration Studies, a group that favors limits on immigration.

'The right to vote is so precious and is one of the few remaining privileges for U.S. citizens,' said Vaughan. 'You become a U.S. citizen if you're born here or if you take an oath of allegiance to the United States and renounce your ties to your old country.'

In most of the country, only U.S. citizens are allowed to vote in local elections, but there have been proposals in a handful of cities to grant non-citizens the right to vote in local elections.

On the practical level, many illegal immigrants may not actually vote, said Vaughan, citing a report by her group on the low turnout among illegal immigrants.

The study includes turnout numbers from past elections in Takoma Park, Md., where non-citizens have been allowed to vote in local elections since 1992. The report said in a 2007 local election, of 455 non-citizens registered to vote, only 10 did.

Richardson expressed her views Tuesday to the Daily News after a video that showed her speaking at a state Democratic party event in favor of towns and cities extending voting rights was posted online by conservative Boston radio host Michael Graham. Her testimony was part of her proposal for additions to the state party's official platform.

Richardson said yesterday she's withdrawing her support.

Still, immigrant advocates believe such a measure would benefit not only illegal immigrants but the community.

'They live in the community and they should be allowed to have their say about things that affect them,' said Fausto da Rocha of the Brazilian Immigrant Center in Allston. 'They should be heard. Every resident in the community should be heard.'

Pablo Maia, a Brazilian-born naturalized U.S. citizen, felt the same way. Maia, a Town Meeting member, said many illegal immigrants could do much more for the community if they'd be allowed to vote.

'There are Americans who don't care about politics and there are immigrants who are very concerned about the town's schools, the budget and the community in general,' he said.

Critics of illegal immigration said illegal immigrants are not marginalized simply because they cannot vote.

'They're counted in the census, and many politicians reach out to them,' said Vaughan.

Isabella, an illegal immigrant from Brazil who lives in Ashland, said if illegal immigrants were allowed to vote they'd feel recognized by the community. That could encourage them to build closer ties to their new home.

'Many people would feel less afraid of government and be more willing to come out of the shadows,' said Isabella, who declined to give her last name for fear of deportation.

An illegal immigrant in Framingham, Angela, who also did not want to give her last name, said many illegal immigrants would be afraid of registering to vote for fear of being reported to immigration authorities, she said.

'On one hand, it'd be an incentive for us to participate in local affairs,' she said. 'On the other hand, we'd have to be reassured that we aren't going to be reported. Otherwise, I myself would be very afraid of going to vote.'

The idea proved hugely unpopular among readers of the Daily News web site. As of yesterday evening, more than 700 people had voted in a poll, with 91 percent opposed to granting the vote to illegal immigrants.


Richardson backs off on voting rights for illegal immigrants
By John Hilliard
The MetroWest Daily News (Framingham, MA), April 9, 2009