The foreign vote stalls in New York | International
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Orlando Sedano, of Colombian origin, was sworn in as a US citizen at the same time that the New York City Council approved a law to allow immigrants with papers to vote in local elections, between 800,000 and one million residents of the Big Apple -almost one out of every nine voters—, holders of work and residence permits and beneficiaries of asylum or temporary protection. It was a pioneering, historic decision for the immigrant community in a city forged by foreigners from all over the world. But just six months later, a court in Staten Island, one of the city’s five counties, revoked the rule this week, agreeing with a group of Republican representatives who believe that the foreign vote devalues Own.
That was the concept used by the judge to explain the repeal of the law, although the official explanation was that the vote of a non-American violates the State Constitution, since only those who can be elected are beneficiaries of active suffrage, and also that to change the system a referendum would be required. The norm, approved on December 9 by a large majority, became law a month later and was to come into force in practice next January, allowing foreigners to elect not only the mayor and council members, but also other local positions such as ombudsman and county president, in addition to participating in referendums.
“It is tremendously unfair, a decision like this could be understood in the times of Donald Trump, but now…”, Sedano is outraged while watching the unloading of a supplier in his supermarket, in East Harlem. “We hope that the promoters of the initiative continue to fight for something that the immigrant community deserves, because it contributes more than it receives from the city, and the city owes a good part of its prosperity and activity, including its operation. Who kept the city alive during the pandemic? The immigrants, who took many risks, including getting sick, to continue bringing food home, or cleaning the streets or hospitals. It is a tough, brave and also essential community, as he demonstrated then, and it only receives discrimination”, concludes Sedano. That some neighbors who pay taxes and “scrupulously” comply with the law, he underlines, “have no voice to demand better schools for their children, is outrageous.”
The setback infuses new vigor to the campaign Our City, Our Vote, to reverse a ruling that explicitly certifies the lower category of foreigners. “Allowing foreigners to vote violates state law and devalues citizenship. New York is openly inviting those who are not Americans to model our democracy in the way that benefits them the most, and that is unacceptable,” analyst Hans von Spakosvy said this week on the ultra-conservative Fox network. The same argument, that of the devaluation or dilution of the vote Okaythat the one used by the judge responsible for the ruling, of Italian origin to be exact, like the main promoters of the lawsuit, a group of Republican representatives from Staten Island.
Mark D. Levine, the president of the Borough of Manhattan, does not hide his anger at the repeal of the law. “The court’s ruling is disappointing to say the least,” he says by email. “New York City was built by immigrants, who work and pay taxes here and make this a better place to live for everyone, regardless of citizenship status. These nearly one million New Yorkers deserve to participate and have a real voice in our local democracy.”
In the approach of the Republicans who attacked the norm, a xenophobic bias appears, not veiled at all: the vote of immigrants is of poorer quality and devalues that of locals. But what if the immigrant was an expatriate from the EU? Or an Indian or Japanese professional of accredited economic solvency, based in the Big Apple for work or studies? It seems that the opponents of the law only targeted some immigrants. The fear of a majority conservative vote was in fact the controversial argument put forward by a former Democratic councilwoman, Laurie Cumbo, who opposed the law on the grounds that the suffrage of Latinos, many of whom voted for Donald Trump in 2020, could weaken that of African Americans (Cumbo is). The hidden distrust between communities crosses horizontally the polyhedral identity of the city, in whose public —political— scene, Latinos appear as the last guests.
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Or penultimate, rather. On 116th Street, north of Central Park, a group of Senegalese gather every afternoon outside an African restaurant. They all have the green card —permanent residence permit— but they didn’t even know the law that would have allowed them to vote. “We are the bottom of the ladder. We are below the Latinos, and we have no contact with the African-Americans in the neighborhood, the locals, even though we also have black skin. We are like oil and water, we don’t mix,” explains Abdou, one of the restaurant’s waiters. “This city is made up of layers, and we occupy the last one, how are we going to consider voting without even showing our heads?”
A red-hot political agenda
More than 15 locations in the US allow non-US citizens to vote, including 11 in Maryland and two in Vermont. San Francisco, in an initiative ratified by voters in 2016, began allowing non-Americans to vote in school board elections, which was also the case in New York until it abolished those boards in 2002 and gave it control of the schools. schools to the mayor. But the approval of the voting law in New York, a traditional Democratic stronghold, is not only significant because it is the largest city in the country, the same one through which so many thousands of foreigners entered at the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th; It is also a counterpoint to the restrictions enacted by states under Republican control, such as Alabama, Colorado and Florida, which have shielded their legislation to prevent such a possibility after denouncing unfounded electoral fraud by non citizens in the general elections. Even the terms used in the litigation (citizensby Americans, vs. not citizensnot citizens or methics) reveal two very different measuring sticks.
That is why the fight is not limited to putting a ballot in a ballot box, the activists maintain. “What is at stake is more democracy. The more people vote, the stronger democracy is, which is why the Staten Island judge’s ruling is, above all, undemocratic,” explains Wennie Chin, head of civic engagement at the New York Immigration Coalition (NYIC). , which brings together 200 immigrant associations. Chin avoids describing the judge’s ruling as racist or xenophobic: “[Es] a disappointing decision but one we expected. But New York is much more than Staten Island, there are five counties, not just one… Nothing has changed for us and we are willing to fight. The first step will be to appeal the ruling, and we hope to do so successfully.” “Just to be able to denounce the cuts from the Department of Education, which will be felt especially in the schools they take their children to, these immigrants should make their voices heard,” adds Chin.
The small print of the law contains a compendium of keys to the political agenda, red hot on the eve of the decisive mid-term elections: the desire to limit the right to vote of certain communities, by the Republicans; horizontal racism between communities; the scant political empowerment of Latinos, who make up 29% of the city’s inhabitants, or, in short, the defense of each one’s political feud: of the constituency, of almost captive voters. The redesign of the electoral map of New York is another added factor, not a minor one. Also the fight to the dog of the republicans in the courts against any social progress. New York, that Babel made of layers, is also a playing field, and its neighbors, watertight categories: strata of citizens, residents and methics.
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