Op-Ed | Grant non-citizen New Yorkers the right to vote

It is no secret that throughout history, Black and Brown people in America have been shut out of the democratic process and effectively silenced. Now, we have an opportunity to create a more inclusive city by passing Intro 1867, a local law that would allow nearly one million permanent residents, like myself, who call New York City home, a chance to vote in our upcoming local elections.

The passing of this law is a first and critical step in eradicating the inequities immigrant communities face. Expanding voting rights is New York City’s opportunity to take the lead in addressing the pervasive marginalization immigrants face. This bill would permit Legal Permanent Residents (green card holders) and those with work authorizations to vote in municipal elections for offices like Mayor and City Council. Moreover, although municipal non-citizen voting currently exists in several other municipalities in the U.S. – including in California and Maryland – the passage of Intro 1867 in New York City would be a catalyst for immigrant suffrage rights in large cities, especially now, when immigrants have been so essential during this pandemic and will be critical to the country’s recovery.

I myself am a green card holder who has never had the opportunity to participate in an election, despite paying taxes for more than 20 years. Immigrants are the cornerstone of New York City’s culture and commerce, yet we continue to have our political voices stifled and denied power at the polls. And even though we contribute financially to the neighborhoods and boroughs we call home, we cannot fully participate in democracy or hold our local leaders accountable.

But now more than ever, New Yorkers have seen first-hand the crucial role immigrants play in our city as essential workers. Throughout this ongoing pandemic, immigrant New Yorkers have risked their lives to care for the sick as medical professionals and home health aides, delivered our groceries, kept gas stations open and the lights on in our local pharmacies, and kept medical facilities, residential, and office buildings clean. Simply put, many immigrants put themselves and their families’ lives in harm’s way to help keep countless of their fellow New Yorkers safe.

This June, while registered voters elect a new Mayor, City Comptroller, Public Advocate and over 30 City Council seats, nearly 1 million of my fellow immigrant New Yorkers will not have the chance to make their voices heard in one of the most consequential elections of our lifetimes.

The reality is that without a say in who our local elected leaders are, we are essentially being left out of every critical decision that affects our families and communities. Granting the vote to nearly one million non-citizen New Yorkers will not only boost voter turnout numbers, but also make it more difficult for local leaders to ignore our needs. We are hardworking taxpayers who form part of our city’s civic fabric and we deserve to have a seat at the table when it comes to deciding how our tax dollars are spent. We have the right to have a voice on how public schools and hospitals are run and to fight for affordable housing in our neighborhoods.

Continuous engagement in the democratic process is a revolutionary act. Intro 1867 will provide immigrants with the tools to fully engage in the political process while moving forward on the path towards full citizenship. It will also finally create a voting landscape that truly reflects the diversity of New York City.

Melissa John is a Trinidadian born US Green Card holder and founder of RepresentWe, an initiative that provides a platform for civic engagement to empower immigrant communities.

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