Let Immigrants Vote? No

By Mark Krikorian on April 18, 2004

New York Daily News, April 18, 2004

Our Constitution begins "We the people of the United States" not "We the inhabitants" or "We the taxpayers" or "We the consumers." Our political institutions therefore ought to be reserved for the American people - citizens either by birth or by choice, joined in the common goal of forming a more perfect union.

Unlike most nations of the world, membership in the American people - citizenship - is not barred to anyone for reasons of race, religion or national origin. Once someone is a legal immigrant, it's relatively easy for them to become a citizen in most cases. You have to have lived here just five years, pay a fee, pass a fingerprint check and a language and civics test. That's it (though bureaucratic backlogs have made the process take longer than it should).

But this very openness imposes an obligation for newcomers to actually join us before they are accorded the privileges of citizenship.

The recent proposal to extend voting rights in New York to noncitizens subverts the very idea of American citizenship because it would remove one of the last distinctions between citizens and noncitizen residents.

Think of becoming a citizen as similar to getting married to America. The oath of citizenship even sounds like a wedding vow: "I absolutely and entirely renounce and abjure all allegiance and fidelity to any foreign prince, potentate, state, or sovereignty." Until he or she becomes a citizen, the immigrant and America are just living together, learning about each other before considering a permanent commitment.

The supporters of noncitizens voting in local elections claim that it would serve as an education in politics and prepare newcomers for citizenship. But there are many forms of nonpolitical participation that can help educate immigrants. They could become involved in religious organizations, for instance, or in schools, tenant groups, labor unions, fraternal societies, etc. Voting - in any kind of election - is the culmination of that process, not just a step along the way.

Anything less robs citizenship of the importance it must have if we are to succeed in securing the blessings of liberty to ourselves and posterity.

Mark Krikorian is executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies.