City Council to consider local voting rights for immigrants with ‘legal status’

Photo courtesy of MGN

11/17/23 By Colette Lauture

The Boston City Council will consider a measure that would let immigrants with “legal status” vote in municipal elections, even if they are not American citizens.

Photo courtesy of MGN

Councilor Kendra Lara brought the home rule petition to a proposal during Wednesday’s meeting, which would enact the change. She received support from multiple colleagues.

Lara argued that though immigrants with legal status pay taxes and contribute to the city’s economy, they are not able to participate in the electoral process. Calling it a “violation of one of our American principles,” she said that disenfranchising taxpayers from voting is not aligned with American values. According to Lara’s petition, foreign-born residents with legal standing pay an average of $2.3 billion in annual taxes and hold about $6 billion in “collective spending power.”

Since the process of gaining full citizenship is often time-consuming and costly, Lara said immigrants that are new to Boston are left without the ability to vote for officials in charge of making decisions that affect their daily lives.

Councilor Michael Flaherty, who has served on the City Council for nearly 20 years, said that councilors have to be mindful of several “legal concerns” with regards to a measure like this.

Experts previously addressed a concern that non-citizens could register to vote in federal or state elections by mistake, possibly barring them from ever gaining citizenship, Flaherty said. He added that employers or family members could use this information in a predatory manner, holding it over others for any reason.

“We need to find a way through this, we need to continue to be inviting and welcoming to new Bostonians, we need to encourage all that community involvement and participation,” he said.

Councilor Liz Breadon spoke in favor of the change, citing her experience as an immigrant from Northern Ireland to Boston in 1995. She said it took her 12 years to gain citizenship, although she had privileges that many newly-arrived immigrants do not.

“We shouldn’t be making it more difficult to participate. We should be smoothing the way and making it easier for people to participate and be fully engaged in our civic life,” Breadon said.

A hearing on the matter will be scheduled soon so that experts can weigh in.