Immigrant Affairs Advocacy Commission to Seek Municipal Immigrant Voting Rights

immigrant voting rights

Earlier this year, a citizen-led immigrant affairs advocacy commission helmed by Emmanuel “Manny” Lusardi and Sylvie de Marrais helped reinvigorate the city’s Commission on Immigrant Rights and Citizenship, which had lain dormant for more than a decade.

After working with Councilor Nadeem Mazen and with Vice Mayor Marc McGovern, that same group will tonight appear in front of City Council to introduce a piece of legislation seeking municipal immigrant voting rights.

The policy order is being co-sponsored by Mazen and McGovern and would ensure that immigrants have the opportunity to vote in City Council and School Committee elections.

“When we became a sanctuary city, that was national news,” Lusardi tells us. “With the current climate, with Donald Trump, where his language has become so acceptable … we believe now is the time. Hopefully we can. We’re getting a lot of support now—hopefully we can build it.”

The complete agenda for tonight’s City Council meeting is available here, and you can read the policy order here or in full below.

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WHEREAS: Cambridge is a City that respects, values, and wishes to nurture the diversity among
its residents, and has been progressive in the past by passing legislation meant to
improve the lives of the residents it serves; and

WHEREAS: Non-citizen residents in Cambridge are fellow taxpayers concerned with issues of
local governance and representation, but are presently barred from formally voicing
their opinions as a constituency since the right to vote locally is not instituted and
requires a Home Rule petition; and

WHEREAS: In 2005, the Cambridge City Council sent a home rule petition to enable non-citizen
voting rights in our city elections: the petition failed to pass in the State House then,
and since the proportion of foreign-born residents in Cambridge has increased; and

WHEREAS: According to the 2014 American Communities Survey conducted by the US Census,
Cambridge has over 30,000 foreign-born residents, with more than half being noncitizens;
given the bureaucratic nature of the naturalization process, it can take well
over a decade to fully enfranchise immigrants who have taken the necessary steps to
apply for full citizenship, thus it often takes a decade or more to gain a stake in the
decisions of their chosen local government; and

WHEREAS: Important debates and discussions in the city affect citizen residents just as they affect non-citizen residents who enroll their children in Cambridge public schools, pay local,
state, and federal taxes, and contribute to our communities on a daily basis, and a
parents’ involvement in the education of their children is proven to be pivotal to
student academic achievement; and

WHEREAS: There are some municipalities in the country that have passed immigrant voting rights locally, and in Massachusetts alone Brookline, Amherst, Newton, and Cambridge have
submitted home rule petitions to the State Legislature seeking non-citizen voting rights
for foreign-born residents; and

WHEREAS: Cambridge residents, regardless of citizenship, complete the annual City Census,
which the city uses as the basis for creating the voter list, meaning that if non-citizen
voting were instituted in our City, there could be less burden to our existing
framework for municipal voting; and

WHEREAS: This policy seeks to enfranchise residents presently barred from voting due to their
citizenship status, excluding non-immigrant visa holders, so that they may participate
equally with their fellow community members in City Council and School Committee
elections; now therefore be it

ORDERED: The City Manager be and hereby is requested to instruct the City Solicitor to draft a
Home Rule petition entitled “AN ACT TO EMPOWER NON-CITIZEN RESIDENTS
OF CAMBRIDGE TO VOTE IN CITY COUNCIL AND SCHOOL COMMITTEE
ELECTIONS”; and be it further

ORDERED: The City Manager be and hereby is requested to confer with the City Solicitor on the
possibility of allowing non-citizen Cambridge residents to vote in municipal elections
without a home-rule petition; and be it further

ORDERED: The City Manager be and hereby is requested to report back to the Council on this
matter.

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