NY okays ‘green card’ voters, but let’s not stop there
Imagine you are a permanent resident in America. A “green card” holder. In quotes because if you have one, you know it’s more like bureaucratic blue. It is the “document” that means you’re here for real. You’re not illegal. You can work. You can pay taxes into the system.
But can you vote? Are you kidding me, pare?
You’d expect more from the country that was founded fueled by the phrase “no taxation without representation.”
That’s the irony. If you are a green card holder you’re legal. You have to pay taxes. You just can’t vote. You’re not a citizen.
But that’s why what happened last week is so significant.
Lady Liberty is smiling broadly on New York City. Her torch, which had seemed a bit dim if not totally burned out in recent years, was forever shining as always.
What the New York City Council did last Thursday, to give noncitizens voting rights, should make everyone in our country proud.
The pro-democracy movement has finally come to America, and it’s about time.
We have seen America changing before our eyes in the other direction. Regressing. Getting smaller. Limiting opportunity. It was an America hell-bent on taking away rights from its people, from abortion rights to the fundamental right to vote.
But now things are going the people’s way. While some states like Texas and Georgia are trying to restrict voting rights, New York City is expanding rights and, allowing more of the people it governs to cast a ballot in local elections.
The measure extends the right to vote to all legal permanent residents (green card holders) and persons with a right to work in the U.S.
Not boat. Vote. You can vote now. You can be heard. You can be counted when it matters. You don’t have to be a citizen.
You are now recognized in New York City as voters.
That means every Filipino American with a green card plus the nearly 120,000 immigrants of Chinese descent in New York City, once formerly left out, voiceless and ignored in our democracy, now have a vote.
It means all those Asian American folks in Flushing have a new weapon after public works officials did little to prevent the storm waters in September from flooding basement apartments.
That weapon to hold government accountable is called the vote. You have more power today than yesterday.
You can now throw the elected bums out of office if they failed to do their jobs. That’s democracy.
Other places like San Francisco have allowed noncitizens to vote in school board elections. But New York City is letting you vote in all the local matters. You can’t vote in federal or state elections. Not yet. But you can vote on the most important issues in your daily life.
If, as the saying goes, “all politics is local,” then focus on the grassroots, the sidewalks where you stand now. You now have a voice in all that affects you right where you live.
But why stop there? This pro-democracy movement can spread all over if people understand the Constitution.
Note: It doesn’t say, “We the Citizens.” The phrase is “We the People.”
The bill is DeBlasio proof. It can’t be vetoed. No doubt, Republicans who feel threatened will try to place obstacles. But the movement has begun.
The pro-democracy movement in America. And of course, this all makes me think about my mom.
My mother, the non-citizen lamb
My mother was a non-citizen immigrant. She didn’t vote at first, and didn’t see the reason for it. My father voted and that was like a “family vote.”
So my mom was shut out willingly. She wasn’t a Tiger Mom. She was a lamb. She was nicer than Imelda, with fewer shoes.
Never the aggressor. Always deferred. She went to church and prayed all the time. Led with love, and let the consequences occur. It was a stance of trust. When she came to America and found a better situation than the one she left, she was grateful and trustful in her new country that things would be done right on her behalf.
She was the naive immigrant. She filled out forms, became a permanent resident, a “green card” holder, and lived on the trust of others.
And then the trust was betrayed, and my mom woke up. Congress was taking away benefits for seniors. She was seeing her monthly check shrink.
One morning, she told me she had done something secretly. She had studied to become a citizen and was finally taking her oath.
After more than 30 years in America I asked her, why now? Essentially, it was “Reaganomics,” the policies under President Ronald Reagan that cut social services to the poor and elderly.
But my mother didn’t say “Reaganomics.” That would have been too cute.
My mother, never a huge news consumer, was no dummy. She would have the TV news on at times, mostly to watch me as a reporter. But when I got back to see her, the TV was always on the show “MacGyver,” the guy who comes up with resourceful ways to fix problems. My mom would sit in the corner of the room with her rosary beads and watch that show.
And it must have dawned on her that her problem of a shrinking benefits check and cutbacks in government support needed some kind of a MacGyver-like fix. But the answer was actually simpler than a TV drama.
Becoming a citizen was the answer, and for just one reason. “I have to vote now,” she said.
On Thursday, I looked at all the immigrants from Africa, the Dominican Republic, China, all over. And I saw the spirit of my mom.
New Yorkers, including noncitizens, finally have a voice in our democracy. And this is where it grows. Let them vote everywhere. In everything.
Cut off the detractors at the pass. It’s not “noncitizen voters.” They’re “Green Card” voters. They’re contributors to America. They are card carrying “permanent residents.”
They should no longer be ignored. With New York City’s bold action, the Pro-Democracy Movement has finally come to America.
Emil Guillermo is a journalist and commentator. He writes a column for the North American Bureau. See his show on www.amok.com See it Live at 2p Pacific on YouTube, Facebook Watch, and [email protected]