It's Not Illegal, But ...

By Stanley Renshon and Stanley Renshon on October 22, 2010

The Washington Post headline is certainly startling: "In WA, illegal immigrants canvassing for votes."

The story reports on one Maria Gianni, who overstayed her visa permit 13 years ago, and others like her, who is now campaigning in Washington State for Democratic senate candidate Patty Murray. Gianni, "one of dozens of volunteers – many of them illegal immigrants," works for an immigrant advocacy organization called OneAmerica Votes.

Pramila Jayapal, head of OneAmerica Votes, says "the campaign is about empowering immigrants who may not feel like they can contribute to a campaign because they can't vote." Notice the slippage from Ms. Gianni's undocumented status to immigrants in general.

Ms. Gianni offers her own rationalization: "In order for there to be a change to our broken immigration system, I believe one has to fight." This surely ranks as a irony: one of the 10-12 million illegal immigrants who failed to abide by American immigration laws is now wrapping herself in the mantle of reform to fix a system that she and her fellow illegal immigrants have helped to break.

Stranger still is the response of Craig Keller, an organizer for Respect WA, a group pushing for stricter immigration law in Washington. He is reported as saying, "he doesn't mind illegal immigrants volunteering for vote drives, he just wants to make sure mistakes on the voter rolls don't allow them to vote." His reasoning? "Anybody can go out and wave a sign, but when it comes to who's making the choices, there's no question they need to be citizens."

Legally, he is on solid ground. There are no laws against illegal immigrants helping those who support legalization. On the other hand, one wonders what Americans will think if the idea that illegal immigrants are now hoping to directly influence the election of an United States senator.

What's wrong with illegal immigrants taking part in the political process by trying to convince others to vote for pro-legalization candidates? Legally, as noted, nothing; ethically a great deal.

By virtue of their illegal presence here they are able to leverage their self-interested support for their own legalization in the same way that illegal immigrants who march in favor of "comprehensive" immigration reform have done.

They have no legal standing as members of the American national community and no moral standing, either, since they are present only by virtue of their own decision to violate American immigration laws.

It's hard to know which is worse, the arrogance of undocumented immigrants using their illegal status to sway American elections, the cynicism of candidates making use of this help, or its acceptance by persons like Craig Keller who supposedly are concerned with the impact of illegal immigrants on the integrity of the our political process.