By Skylar Haines

A recent public hearing may bring more ballots to the polls in Boston. The city’s suggestion to give voting rights to legal immigrants without citizenship has caused controversy.

The Bill of Rights, 15th Amendment, voters rights and protections, otherwise known as one of this nation’s most fundamental values. In 1920, suffragists fought for their right to vote and passed the 19th Amendment. In 1965, the civil rights movement shifted its focus to voting equality and passed the Voting Rights Act. And today, Boston discusses a progressive legislation to encourage Boston immigrants in a frayed political climate.

Supporters argue this proposal should not be controversial, since 40 states and federal territories allowed non-U.S. citizens at the polls since the nation’s founding to 1920. Yet, in the midst of the recent Zero Tolerance Policy, and an administration that supports extreme immigration cutbacks, this proposal provokes intense discussion. Those against this policy feel as though extending voting rights to non-citizens undermines the inherent worth of US citizenship.

Boston City Councilor Ed Flynn, opposed the objective during the hearing, saying, “The right to vote is a unique characteristic and privilege reserved for those individuals who have gone through the extensive citizenship application process.”

However, City Council President Andrea Campbell, believes that providing the right to vote to certain people—including visa holders, permanent legal residents, Deferred Action Childhood Arrival (DACA) recipients, and Temporary Protected Status recipients—could empower local immigrant communities.

“This is an opportunity for us to say, ‘… we want you to be a part of some of these conversations,’” Campbell said. She also highlighted that foreign-born residents represent 28% of the city’s population. The 2015 city report even proved that non-U.S. citizens paid $116 million in state and local taxes as well as spending over $3.4 billion. Karl Becker, a Dorchester resident whose wife is a permanent legal resident from Malaysia testified saying, “Boston is where the fight against taxation without representation began way back in 1773.” And yet, she is experiencing the very same.

There is no official proposal at this time. In Massachusetts, Amherst, Brookline, Cambridge, Newtown, and Wayland have passed home-rule petitions to allow non-citizens to vote in their municipal elections. However, in order for it to take effect, state lawmakers must pass legislation.

 

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