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October 15, 2004


What if you weren't allowed to vote?

This article about immigrants who will be denied the right to vote in the upcoming election is from earlier in the week, but I'm so surprised at the lack of coverage on this issue that I'm posting it now. Because of an unprecedented backlog in application processing at US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS, previously the INS, and now part of the Department of Homeland Security), 678,000 immigration cases are currently pending nationwide. In New York City alone, this means that 60,000 foreign-born people will not be voting on November 2.

Margie McHugh, executive director of the New York Immigration Coalition states the obvious: “With the margin of victory in the presidential race expected to be razor-thin in many states, the massive loss of votes caused by the immigration service’s failure to process these cases could certainly have an impact on the outcome of the presidential election."

The official explanation is that the backlog is the result of increased post-September 11 security measures. USCIS recognizes that people are starting to get pissed (especially because application fees have increased as well), so they've developed a strategic plan [pdf] to eliminate the backlog – by the end of 2006.

Clearly, people like Ms. McHugh and other advocates who need the support of the next administration don't want to come out and say what they must be thinking. But I will. I think the government doesn't feel any urgency about solving this problem because immigrants vote. And they vote for Democrats*.

According to a study [big pdf] by the National Council of la Raza, the number of registered foreign-born voters grew 20% between 1996 and 2000, compared with 1.5% for the general population. 87% of foreign-born registered voters actually voted in the 2000 election, a higher percentage than white or black voters (86% and 84%, respectively). The study, published in 2002, goes on to say that “If immigrants who are currently in the naturalization pipeline, as well as an additional one-fourth of those already eligible for citizenship, were to naturalize by 2004, the immigrant voting-age population would increase by nearly 20%. At current rates of voter registration and turnout, this would mean roughly one million new immigrant voters in 2004.”

This is an issue I've been hearing about for some time, because many of the people I work with are in the process of applying for citizenship. Most have lived in this country since their teens. Some are homeowners. All have jobs and pay taxes. They're having a rough time, and I can't help thinking it might be in part because they work for an organization that has put millions of dollars into defeating George Bush.

One coworker just received her final swearing-in date after being postponed twice due to DHS "concerns". (She is from the terrorist-harboring nation of Panama, although she has now lived in the U.S. for 20 years). The date, unsurprisingly, is December 2.

Is the timing of this backlog just a coincidence? Maybe. But it’s a coincidence that’s going to keep almost 700,000 people from voting on November 2.

Luckily, one thing it's not going to do is keep my coworker quiet. She's volunteering at the phone bank and going to Philadelphia on election day to get voters to the polls. Because if she can't vote, she's damn well going to make sure everyone else does.

* This is speculation, since there is no comprehensive data on party affiliations of foreign-born voters. But a recent Pew Hispanic Center study on registered Latino voters shows:
"Among registered Latinos, about half identify as Democrats (49%), with one-fifth saying they are Republicans (20%) and another fifth identifying as Independents (19%). Among registered voters, Latinos are twice as likely as whites to self-identify as Democrats (49% and 24%, respectively), but less likely than African Americans (64%)."

categories: News, Politics, Race
posted by Emily at 5:15 PM | #