The Boston City Council held a hearing earlier this week about non-citizens voting in municipal elections that caused much controversy among residents. The councilors received many phone calls and emails, often bordering on anti-immigrant or hateful.
“Much of it has been very nasty and negative, which is disheartening,” said Councilor Kim Janey. “It’s disheartening that people do not even want to entertain a conversation. We often talk about the nastiness in D.C., but it’s also in our backyard.”
Council President Andrea Campbell called for the hearing, saying that the city is at a crossroads on how they represent the immigrant community. According to city officials, there are about 180,000 immigrants in Boston and half of them are naturalized citizens.
At-Large Councilor Ayanna Pressley said she was in favor of non-citizens voting, saying that they contribute to the local economy and help create Boston’s vibrancy. “I believe they deserve a say on who represents them on a municipal level,” she said.
However, not all the councilors agreed with the idea.
“The right to vote is a privilege reserved for U.S. citizens,” said Councilor Ed Flynn.
“Those who take issue with the rules, requirements, fairness or efficiency of our current system of immigration and naturalization should focus their attention on those issues rather than circumventing this process entirely,” said Councilor Tim McCarthy in a letter to his colleagues.
Pressley pointed out that while voting is a sacred right, those who have that right do not often use it, as evident in the last election that had only a 20% turnout.
Boston residents also seemed mixed about letting non-citizens vote.
“I pay taxes, I own property and I think that, at the end of the day, that means I should have a voice,” said Lina Duarte, who is working toward becoming a legal citizen and has been in the country ten years on a visa.
However, resident David Cain believes voting is only for U.S. citizens and, if immigrants want to participate elections, they need to become citizens first.
“Immigrants should earn their citizenship. Naturalized citizens have the obligation to learn about our country,” he said.
The councilors decided to have more conversations about immigrant civic engagement, but not to make any immediate plans for legislation.