iVote In Jackson Heights
Legal Residency, Citizenship & Voting Rights In Queens
August 20, 2011 / Jackson Heights Neighborhood / Queens Buzz. I attended the iVote Festival in Jackson Heights on Saturday to see what it was all about. The event was sponsored in part by the Humanist Party, which wants to restore “an old practice” of allowing legal residents the right to vote in municipal elections where they work, live and pay taxes. According to sources at this event, there are currently 1.3 million legal residents in New York City who don't have any voting rights in NYC.
We were told that by some estimates, 60% of Jackson Heights residents are legal residents who have no representation in local government. Apparently obtaining U.S. Citizenship is far more difficult that just passing a test. Click here to read more about legal residency, citizenship and voting rights in Queens which were discussed at the iVote Festival in Jackson Heights neighborhood.
iVote In Jackson Heights
Legal Residency, Citizenship & Voting Rights In Queens
August 20, 2011 / Jackson Heights Neighborhood / Queens Buzz. The issues here go all the way back to the American Revolution – Taxation Without Representation. The 1.3 million legal residents are generating taxable income to the tune of tens of billions of dollars and paying taxes on it, but don’t have any representation. They’re not fighting for the right to elect state or federal government officials who set policy for the state / nation, but rather to play a role in local government in the communities in which they live, work and play. A six month residency requirement and the legal documentation demonstrating that they are legal residents would be required.
To date the resolution – Intro 410 – has been introduced to the City Council three times within the past decade and has not passed. Based on the literature we were given, 21 city council members have signed for Intro 410 and 30 city council members, including the speaker, have not signed for it. Much to my surprise, given that Queens immigrant population represents 47% of the borough, only two Queens city council members supported the resolution [Daniel Dromm and Julissa Ferreras]. Julissa Ferreras is shown speaking to the crowd in the photo to your left.
Process To Becoming A Legal Resident
To obtain legal residency one must go through a process which is part of a continuum leading to citizenship should one care to pursue the immigration path to its end. One applies for legal residency through either sponsored family connections [children, spouses, brothers and sisters, parents] or through a sponsored employment connection.
Once one has found a sponsor, a petition is submitted to the Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services [formerly Immigration and Naturalization Services], which is now a department of Homeland Security. The petition is reviewed. Priorities are allocated based on either employment needs and position / skills justification or with respect to immigration quotas, the process of which was outlined in a law.
U.S. Immigration Laws - Setting Quotas
Immigration laws in the U.S. specified quotas in 1924 and again in 1952 based by nation and regions. In 1985 this was modified and immigration policy was organized along family relationships and employment skills / needs criteria.
The third step in the process might be adjudication to secure one’s place in the priorities. To obtain a green card one must not have a criminal record and have an employment sponsor or family sponsor, both of which include financial support and a path to adapting to the American language, legal system and way of life. Legal residents also pay taxes, and have an opportunity to become citizens.
U.S. Citizenship Requirements - In Queens
U.S. citizenship requirements include the following: 1) you must be 18 years old and in many cases 21 years old, you must be a legal / permanent resident [the time requirement varies based on relationship, but is generally five years*], you must have lived in U.S. for at least 3 months to begin the citizenship application, if male between the ages of 19 – 26 you must register with U.S. Selective Service [Armed Services Volunteer - this can expedite the citizenship process]. You must be of Good Moral Character, you must be able to read, write and speak basic English, and you must have a basic understanding of U.S. history and the American system of government.
Military Service - Can Expedite Citizenship Process
*If you’ve served in the U.S. Military for at least 1 year and apply for citizenship within 6 mos of discharge you can shorten the time requirement to becoming a citizen. And if you’ve been in a spousal relationship for at least 3 yrs you can also expedite citizenship process.
Immigration Priorities - Family Based Connections
There are priorities given for family connections to U.S. Citizens or permanent U.S. residents. The priorities of relationships to U.S. Citizens are as follows: 1) unmarried children, 2) spouses and their unmarried children [applies to legal residents too], 3) married children and 4) brothers and sisters [must be over 21]. The U.S. Citizen to whom you’re related must submit the application and they must be operating at an income level that is at least 25% above the poverty level, which is about $20,000 / $25,000 for an individual / two people in the 48 contiguous states.
The citizen applicant must be an adult and in most cases this is age 21 plus, showing proper citizenship or legal resident status, they must be able to document their relationship to you and they must show that they can support you at a level 25% above the poverty level. Brendan Fay, community activist, is shown giving an impassioned speech at the iVote Festival in Jackson Heights.
Foreigners & Voting Rights - Worldwide
I was told that 45 countries provide some sort of voting rights to foreigners. In researching this, I found that the subject has been discussed in forty-five countries, but not all of them have passed laws allowing foreigners or legal residents to vote. In many, if not most cases, the foreigner / legal resident voting rights are restricted to local elections – AND are generally reciprocal with other nations. The best example of this is in Europe where European Union Members living in another country can vote in local elections. Another example is Brazil, where it has a reciprocal arrangement with Portugal with respect to local voting rights.
Foreigners & Voting Rights - United States Of America
In the U.S., a nation of immigrants, most states at one time or another have allowed legally registered foreigners to vote. In the early 1900’s after huge waves of immigrants flooded into the country, there was an immigrant backlash. As a result many of the provisions allowing foreigners some voting rights were repealed. This movement to rescind foreigner voting rights continued into the 1930’s.
In recent years there have been efforts afoot to provide some sort of local voting rights to legally residing foreigners. Bills have been introduced and voted down in many states, including New York, California, Texas and the District of Columbia. Lynne Serpe [center], Queens community activist, was at the iVote Festival and provided some of the information contained herein.
Proponents of the legislation say that legal residents pay taxes and have no representation. That they’ve already ‘been screened’ by virtue of their legal residency and only want the right to vote in local elections which affect the quality of life in the communities in which they reside [and pay taxes]. Opponents say they must go through the citizenship process.
This was my first encounter with this issue. I'm sure there's much more to learn about it, but at first glance, I found myself asking the question: In a day and age when there's apathy in the community, where only 20% of the U.S. electorate goes to the polls in an off-year election, and only 50% of the U.S. electorate goes to the polls in an on-year election, why not let residents who are legally registered in the country [and hence have an interest in the U.S. and possibly citizenship], who pay taxes and who [frequently] have children in the school system, participate more fully in the Queens communities? Given that 47% of Queens residents are immigrants, it seems to me this would tap a reservoir of activism and energy for community efforts which would be good – not bad – for the Queens community as a whole.
Queens Community House Of Jackson Heights
There were a number of other community groups present at the festival. The Queens Community House is located in Jackson Heights and throughout Queens. They were founded in the settlement house tradition which has a mission of helping a diverse American immigrant community become assimilated and self-empowered. Their programs are designed to foster that goal, including improving English language skills, learning about employment opportunities and how to educate and develop work skills which are in demand, and learning about your housing and other rights.
DRUM – Desis Rising Up & Moving
We met a number of people working for DRUM which stands for Desis Rising Up & Moving. Their programs are designed to help South Asians assimilate into the community through education, immigrant rights and employment. The education programs focus on mastering the English language, computer skills and learning how to assert one’s rights.
According to their literature, there are approximately one million southeast Asians living in the NYC metro area. Southeast Asians include Nepalese, Pakistanis, Bangladeshis, Indians, Guyanese and from Trinidad. Some of the things they’re fighting for are enforcement of minimum wage, workers compensation, enforcing required breaks for manual labor, payment of unpaid back wages, enforcement of allowing service staff to keep their own tips, enforcement of overtime pay, enforcement of discrimination and sexual harassment laws and access to health benefits. The photo to your left shows some of the DRUM volunteers at the iVote Festival.
NYC Commission On Human Rights
The NYC Commission on Human Rights was there with literature about their programs. Their programs address the following topics: housing discrimination, employment discrimination, sexual harassment and the human right to respect in the work place.
Miguel Ramirez, Human Rights Specialist, of the NYC Commission on Human Rights is shown in the photo to your right.
Voces Latinas & Violence Intervention Program
Lastly there were a two groups, Violence Intervention Program and Voces Latinas, dedicated to helping battered women and preventing the spread of AIDs and other sexually transmitted diseases [STDs].
Some of the volunteers for Voces Latinas at the iVote Festival in Jackson Heights are shown in the photo to your left.
David Andersson & The Humanist Party
I met David Andersson who was one of the pivotal organizers of the event and a member of the humanist party [as opposed to the Democratic or Republican parties]. He spoke about having a code of human rights enabling people to participate in the communities in which they live regardless of their country of origin. David was followed by City Councilwoman, Julissa Ferreras who told how her father came to this country in search of the American dream. When he first arrived in this country, he started with a job pumping gas. He came here and he worked hard, so that one day his kids would have better employment opportunities than he did.
Victorio Menghi & Brendan Fay
On the entertainment side we saw Victorio Menghi perform on the guitar with vocals. He was followed by a bilingual rapper [Spanish and English]. A legal resident and an authentic Irishman, Brendan Fay, got up to talk about human rights regardless of country. Apparently Brendan was one of the organizers of the St. Pat’s Parade in Sunnyside / Woodside. Victorio Menghi is shown in the photo to your left.
Anyhow, it turned out to be far more interesting and informative than I first thought. But in Queens that’s nearly always the case. Another subway stop, another country. Another event, another peak into the bigger world in which we live.
Law To Allow Legal Residents Voting Rights In Local Elections - Intro 410
By Council Members Dromm, Brewer, Foster, James, Lander, Palma, Rodriguez, Rose, Williams, Mendez, Ferreras, Mark-Viverito, Reyna, Seabrook, Jackson, Barron, Eugene, Vann, Gonzalez, Arroyo and Chin
A Local Law to amend the New York city charter, in relation to allowing immigrants lawfully present in New York city to vote in municipal elections.
Be it enacted by the Council as follows:
Section 1. The New York city charter is amended by adding a new chapter forty-six-a, to read as follows:
Voting By Non-Citizen Residents
ß1057-c Registering to Vote.
ß1057-d The role of the New York City Board of Elections.
ß1057-e Poll administration.
ß1057-f Municipal voter registration forms.
ß1057-g Party affiliations.
ß1057-h Availability of municipal voter registration forms.
ß1057-i Absentee ballots.
ß1057-j Registration deadlines.
ß1057-k Municipal voter notification.
ß1057-l Change of address procedures.
ß1057-n Community participation.
ß1057-o Transitioning to citizenship.
ß1057-q State and Federal elections.
ß1057-b Definitions. For purposes of this chapter, the following terms shall have the following meanings:
1. A "municipal voter" shall mean a person who is not a United States citizen, but is lawfully present in the United States on the date of the election in which he or she is voting, and has been a resident of New York City, as defined herein, for six months or longer by the date of such election, and who meets all qualifications for registering to vote under the New York state election law, except for possessing United States citizenship, and has registered to vote with the New York city board of elections under this chapter.
2. A "resident of New York city" shall mean a person who resides within the five boroughs of New York city.
3. A "municipal election" shall mean the designation, nomination and election process for a municipal officer, including the mayor, the comptroller, the public advocate, members of the city council, and the borough presidents. Municipal elections include all primary, special and general elections and all municipal ballot measures.
4. "Municipal voter registration" shall mean the method by which the New York city board of elections registers new municipal voters pursuant to the provisions of this chapter.
5. "New York state board of elections voter registration" shall mean the method currently used by the New York state board of elections to register voters under the New York state election law.
ß1057-c Registering to vote. All municipal voters shall have their names entered on the city board of election's list of registered voters and may thereafter vote in any municipal election.
ß1057-d The role of the New York City Board of Elections. The New York city board of elections shall create a municipal voter registration form for use by municipal voters, register municipal voters and adopt all necessary rules to carry out the provisions of this chapter. Municipal voters shall be entitled to the same rights and privileges as citizen voters with regard to municipal elections.
ß1057-e Poll administration. For each municipal election, the New York city board of elections shall produce a single poll list that combines municipal voters and other voters registered under the New York state election law for each election district. Municipal voters shall not be required to form a separate line or vote in a separate location from citizens registered under the New York state election law. Poll list entries for municipal voters shall be marked with an "M". Municipal voters shall vote using the same voting methods as citizen voters.
ß1057-f Municipal voter registration forms. The New York city board of elections shall design and distribute municipal voter registration forms. Such forms shall include, but not be limited to, the following:
a. Notice that individuals registering using municipal voter forms will be registered to vote in municipal elections only, and expressly state that municipal voters are not qualified to vote in state or federal elections.
b. Information on the qualifications to vote at the state and federal levels according to the New York state election law, and information on how individuals who meet such qualifications can register.
c. Notice that individuals who are not legally present in the United States at the time of the next election, or have been residents of New York city for less than six months by the time of the next election, do not qualify to register to vote as municipal voters.
d. Notice that registration and enrollment is not complete until the municipal voter registration form is received and accepted by the New York city board of elections.
e. Notice that it is a crime, along with the attendant penalties and possible immigration consequences, to procure a false registration or to furnish false information to the board of elections.
f. Notice that political party enrollment is optional, but that in order to vote in a primary election of a political party, a voter must enroll in that political party.
g. Notice that a voter notification form will be mailed to each applicant whose completed form is received.
h. The telephone number of the relevant county board of elections and a phone number at the state board of elections that an individual may call to obtain answers to questions regarding registration, if one exists.
i. The form shall also include the following:
1. Space to indicate the name and address of the applicant.
2. Space to indicate the date of birth of the applicant.
3. Space to indicate whether the applicant is a citizen of the United States.
4. Space to indicate the gender of the applicant, including notice that providing such information is optional.
5. Space to indicate whether the applicant wishes to enroll in a party and, if so, which party.
6. Space to indicate the telephone number of the applicant, including notice that providing such information is optional
7. Space for the applicant to execute the form on a line which is clearly labeled "signature of applicant" preceded by the following form of affirmation: AFFIDAVIT: I swear or affirm that I will be lawfully present in the United States and will have been a resident of New York City for a minimum of six months by the time of the next election and, to the best of my knowledge, I meet all of the requirements to register to vote in New York State except for United States citizenship. This is my signature or mark on the line below. All the information contained on this application is true. I understand that if it is not true I can be convicted and fined up to $500 and/or jailed for up to one year.
ß1057-g Party affiliations. Individuals who enroll in a political party using a municipal voter registration form shall be considered qualified members of that party for the purposes of primary elections and candidate nomination processes.
ß1057-h Availability of municipal voter registration forms. Municipal voter registration forms shall be made available at every location where New York state board of elections voter registration forms are available, including, but not limited to, libraries, post offices, on the internet, in public schools, and at all locations and government agencies and offices required by section 1057-a of the charter.
ß1057-i Absentee Ballots. The New York city board of elections will develop an absentee ballot and absentee voting procedures for municipal voters.
ß1057-j Registration deadlines. Registration deadlines for municipal voters in each election shall be the same as the deadlines set by the New York state board of elections for citizen voters in that election.
ß1057-k Municipal voter notification. The New York city board of elections shall create and implement a municipal voter notification system consistent with New York state election law.
ß1057-l Change of address procedures. The New York city board of elections shall create a process, consistent with the process used by the New York state board of elections for citizen voters, by which a municipal voter can change or update his or her address.
ß1057-m Confidentiality. a. No inquiries shall be made as to the immigration status of potential municipal voter or municipal voter, other than to ascertain whether he or she qualifies to vote under this chapter. If such information is volunteered to any city employee, it will not be recorded or shared with any other federal, state, or local agency, except as otherwise required by law.
b. All federal, state, and municipal confidentiality policies that pertain to citizen voters shall also apply to municipal voters.
c. No municipal voter shall be asked to produce photographic identification or proof of address as a prerequisite for voter registration, except as required by state or federal law.
d. Lists of municipal voters shall not be published, distributed or otherwise provided to the public separately or distinctly from the complete voter registration list of all qualified voters in New York city or a political subdivision thereof.
ß1057-n Community participation. The New York city board of elections shall consult regularly with appropriate organizations, including advocacy groups and community associations, in the implementation of these provisions.
ß1057-o Transitioning to citizenship. Municipal voters who are registered to vote under this chapter and who subsequently become United States citizens shall remain qualified to vote under this provision until such time as they no longer meet the qualifications set forth in this chapter or until they register to vote on a New York state board of elections voter registration form. Upon filing of an individual's New York state voter registration form, such individual's existing municipal voter registration shall become invalid.
ß1057-p Challenges. Any municipal voter's qualifications to register to vote under this chapter may be challenged according to the terms of the New York state election law, except that "The Qualification Oath" shall be altered for municipal voters to read: "You do swear (or affirm) that you are eighteen years of age or older, that you are lawfully present in the United States, that you are a resident of this state and of New York city, that you still reside at the same address from which you have been duly registered in this election district, that you have not voted at this election, and that you do not know of any reason why you are not qualified to vote at this election. You do further declare that you are aware that it is a crime to make any false statement and that all the statements you have made to the board have been true and that you understand that a false statement is perjury and, if you make such a false statement, you will be guilty of a misdemeanor."
ß1057-q State or Federal elections. Nothing in this chapter shall be construed so as to confer upon non-citizens the right to vote for any state or federal office or on any state or federal ballot question.
ß1057-r Violations. a. Any person who knowingly and willfully violates any provision of this chapter shall be guilty of a misdemeanor.
b. A public officer who knowingly and willfully omits, refuses or neglects to perform any act required of him by this chapter, who knowingly and willfully refuses to permit the doing of any act authorized by this chapter or who knowingly and willfully hinders, or delays or attempts to hinder or delay the performance of such an act is, if not otherwise provided by ß 17-128 of the election law or any other law, guilty of a misdemeanor.
c. Any person convicted of a misdemeanor under this section shall be punished by imprisonment for not more than one year, or by a fine of not less than one hundred dollars or more than five hundred dollars, or a combination of fine and imprisonment.
ß2. This local law shall be effective 180 days after its enactment.
This law has not passed as only 21 of the 51 members of the city council signed for it.
Update: July 8, 2014 - We received this link from a reader which might be of interest.
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