AsAmNews: NYC Council appeals ruling on noncitizen voting law as splitting views linger

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By Rachel Kim

An appeal filed by the New York City Council is an attempt to bring back voting rights for legal noncitizens in New York. The legal action comes after the noncitizen voting law was struck down in 2022, sparking a debate about inclusivity in the electoral process.

Enacting this landmark legislation would allow approximately 900,000 new noncitizen voters to cast a ballot in all local elections for city-level offices and participate in decisions regarding the communities they work and live in.

Opponents of the law, consisting of mainly right-leaning elected officials, argued that the law is unconstitutional and the right to vote is a privilege reserved for U.S. citizens. Civil organizations and progressive Democrats, on the other hand, contended that extending voting rights would ensure a democratic process, enabling immigrant New Yorkers to have a say in their local governance and community affairs.

Woojung “Diana” Park is a DACA recipient who comes from a mixed-status family where her sister has citizenship and she and her parents do not. An immigrant justice organizer at Minkwon Center, Park has actively participated in the Our City, Our Vote coalition rally which supports the legislation of Local Law 11. 

“It’s amazing that our advocacy has created real hope that our legislators are listening. They recognize the importance of allowing noncitizens in NYC the access to participate in municipal elections. This will allow our immigrant communities a fighting chance for equity and justice,” said Park. “OCOV [Our City Our Vote] is the first step in giving our noncitizens in NYC a voice. They will no longer stand by but now they have the choice to take action. It’s incredible that the New York City Council recognizes our affected community members.”

Different points of arguments were argued by advocates and opponents of the law about its constitutionality. Prior to endorsing its passage, the New York Immigration Coalition conducted a review of the legality of Local Law 11 and concluded that the legislation did not infringe upon New York’s electoral laws or constitution. 

Among noncitizens, too, there existed different consensus and thoughts: whether the law creates an inclusive democracy or infringes the right reserved for U.S. citizens only.

K.C. is a non-citizen office worker in New York City holding a green card. He interprets opposition to this ruling from a different perspective, in that he believes the electoral process should be reserved for citizens only.

“I am a firm believer that voting within an electoral process is a citizenship privilege, and extending that to non-citizens may undermine that value,” K.C. told AsAmNews. “The topic of whether non-citizens should be able to vote is very complex and contentious. When doing community outreach and education around this topic, it is important to share both the pros and the challenges.”

Meanwhile, immigrant and civil rights organizations like LatinoJustice Puerto Rican Legal Defense and Education Fund and Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund (AALDEF) have filed their own appeal against the overturning of the legislation in February as well. 

“The City Council’s decision to appeal the Second Department’s ruling was a very welcome sign that New York City is still willing to fight for the rights of noncitizen New Yorkers. While our coalition believed in our case regardless of what the City Council ended up doing, it will be helpful to have them on board as we work together to advocate for this law that enfranchises so many of our community members,” Patrick Stegemoeller, Staff Attorney for the Democracy Program at AALDEF, told AsAmNews. “Now we take our case to the Court of Appeals, the highest court in New York State, to demonstrate that Local Law 11 is a constitutional and valid law that should be put into effect as soon as possible.”

Advocates of the law like Woojung “Diana” Park voiced their concerns around “being the silent supporter” of documented counterparts in the electoral process.

“If I was granted the right to vote, my relationship with the government of NYC would be more hopeful. I would gain trust and faith that legislators are fighting for our noncitizens in NYC,” Park said.

She also spoke on the key role nonprofits play in creating change within immigrant communities.

“Nonprofits play a pivotal role in helping noncitizens vote because they allow the public access to crucial resources and education that directly assists affected community members. Many of these nonprofits are part of the grassroots movement which means they act on the local level to implement change. Change is slow but steady when it begins with immigrant communities,” said Park.

For groups of noncitizens who are unable to vote, there are other pathways of representation besides being civically engaged amid the ongoing legal issue.

AALDEF’s Stegemoeller urged non-citizens to rally in support of the law and show the importance of empowering all New Yorkers to participate in the civic process.

He says it’s important to show that the people most impacted by the law support it.

Civic organizations are confident they can make the change permanent this time around.

“I want the public to take away that noncitizens deserve the same rights as their fellow New Yorkers. Non-citizens are part of the fabric of NYC. We all want to survive, to thrive in NYC. Give noncitizens the same dignity, give noncitizens their voice,” said Park.


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