Friday, July 02, 2004

San Francisco Examiner: Plan would grant vote to noncitizens

San Francisco Examiner: Plan would grant vote to noncitizens

Published on Friday, July 2, 2004

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A reform measure that would allow noncitizens with children in the San Francisco Unified School District to cast ballots in Board of Education elections is moving forward and appears to have the needed support to go before voters in November.

The initiative, perhaps the first step toward giving full voting rights for immigrants, could utilize a "blind registry" system, where parents and guardians are signed up to vote through district records. If passed, it would blend citizens and immigrants, according to Carlos Petroni of the "Parents United for Education" campaign.

"We really want to use the campaign to focus folks on the fact that it is very difficult for immigrants to become citizens," said proponent David Chiu, a board member of Chinese for Affirmative Action. "It takes about 10 years for a legal immigrant to become a citizen, and that's due to the huge bureaucratic backlogs and red tape that they face with the federal government."

Illegal immigrants could also vote under the proposal, introducing some of the same concerns present in the statewide debate over whether to legalize driver's licenses for undocumented workers.

"Proponents of both [proposals] can say this is a way that people who are already here can engage," said Laura Hill, a research fellow with the Public Policy Institute of California. "The other side has arguments as well -- [that immigrants] should participate in the same rules and regulations as everyone else."

Karthick Ramakrishnan, also with the institute, said that for those who concede the right of undocumented immigrant's children to be schooled here, it's not a difficult leap to extend Board of Education voting rights to their parents.

"You already have a lot of immigrant parents who are not citizens but nevertheless participate in school board meetings and in their children's education, and this could be another way for them to be involved," he said.

Immigrants comprise about a fifth of voting-age Californians. Proponents of the San Francisco initiative estimate as many as one-third of the 60,000 kids in public schools here have at least one noncitizen parent.

Cities in Maryland, New York, Illinois and Massachusetts have already allowed forms of noncitizen voting.


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