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Opinion: Lines Ever Blurrier Between Citizens and Non-Citizens

By Tom Elias

Almost no one seemed to notice during last fall’s election that yet another line between citizens and immigrant non-citizens was breached. Even before then, there were few privileges and rights that immigrants – both documented and not – could not enjoy in at least some parts of California.

Drivers licenses, check. Illegal immigrant children eligible for state-paid medical insurance under Medi-Cal, check. In-state college tuition, check that, too. Undocumented immigrants even have the right to practice law here under a bill signed in 2015 by Gov. Jerry Brown. And legal immigrants can be poll workers at election time, too, because of a perceived shortage of multi-lingual election officials.

About the only thing non-citizens can’t do is vote. But wait a minute. San Francisco voters by a 54-46 percent margin last fall decided to blur that, too, for immigrant parents of public school pupils regardless of their legal status. They passed the local initiative Proposition N to give non-citizen parents of public schoolchildren the right to vote in school board elections.

So non-citizens, even if undocumented, now can help decide who will spend taxpayer money, and indirectly, how it will be spent.

There is one fly in this ointment, at least for the undocumented. One that local officials have not yet figured a way around.

Most school board elections in San Francisco and elsewhere coincide with votes on myriad other offices and issues. But noncitizens there are authorized to vote only on school board candidates.

Does this mean noncitizen parents exercising their new local right will be handed special ballots at the polls or, under California’s soon-to-be-implemented new election system, receive special ballots in the mail? Will they fill out different forms when they register from the ones used by citizens?

This has not yet been decided, but if noncitizens do receive special forms and ballots, it will be because they’re honest enough to admit their actual immigration status. If they do admit it and get separate, unequal treatment via ballots dealing with only one type of contest, they might just be risking deportation.

That’s because President Trump has said for more than a year that he intends to deport all illegal immigrants, regardless of how law-abiding they are in other ways. He’s said he wants to start with undocumented immigrants who are also criminals, but that has not changed his ultimate goal of ousting virtually all illegals. San Francisco’s voting records might provide a method for his operatives to locate some of them.

This leaves local officials a tad perplexed. “We have to craft a really strong privacy policy so if anyone wants to vote we…ensure their contact information…isn’t revealed or given over to the federal government or any entity like (immigration) enforcement,” said former San Francisco Supervisor Eric Mar, who sponsored Prop. N.

That won’t be easy, considering that Trump’s Justice Department can subpoena any voting records it likes, just as federal lawyers have done for years while fighting voting rights cases in the old South.

San Francisco’s school system spent years trying to convince parents of pupils that their records will be safe. That’s one reason the local school databases don’t list citizenship status. There are other complications, too, including the question of whether some parents could vote twice in school board elections if the schools sent out special schools-only ballots to parents, while citizen parents would also see the same contests on their regular ballots.

So San Francisco has a lot to work through, with no easy solutions in sight. But the city has already taken the issue of non-citizen voting a step beyond where it is anywhere else.

Yes, in New York City, left-leaning Mayor Bill de Blasio and his sympatico city council have several times considered a law allowing all legal residents, regardless of citizenship status, to vote in local elections. Their rationale is that citizens and non-citizens are equally affected by public policy from tax levies to road building and policing, which they say ought to entitle all residents to an equal voice in local matters. But it has not yet happened there.

But giving non-citizens the ultimate right belonging to citizens, along with all the other privileges they’ve already attained, would remove most of the motive to do the very basic book-learning needed to become a citizen.

Which makes this ultimately a destructive practice. 

in Opinion
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