City Council Talks Noncitizen Voting Following State of the Union

February 2018

By Sam Tarr

While Democratic Rep. Joe Kennedy gave the official rebuttal to Donald Trump’s State of the Union speech the night before, the Boston City Council used it’s Wednesday meeting to give their own response.

Beginning by honoring two members of the city’s immigrant community, the meeting, as Councilor At-Large Ayanna Pressley put it, offered a “stark contrast” to Trump’s speech.

The 6th Districts Matt O’Malley cited Washington’s lack of leadership while discussing a potential city-wide curbside composting program. The hearing order moved forward with unanimous consent.

But it was Council President Andrea Campbell’s hearing order that is already seeing some pushback.

Campbell is calling for a “conversation” about potentially opening municipal elections to Boston residents with legal status, currently seeking a pathway to citizenship.

Campbell addresses the council

“We have a responsibility as municipal leaders,” Campbell said, “to explore concrete ways we can include and support these residents in the city they call home.”

Campbell argued that the pathways for past immigrants were no longer available, and the “inaction in Washington” is preventing full community participation for many of Boston’s immigrant population.

“Immigrants who come to the city of Boston face many of the same challenges as the Irish, the Italians and the Jews who came before them,” Campbell said. 

“They also face additional barriers when it comes to immigration and pathways to citizenship. And these barriers are harsher and racist.”

Lydia Edwards, Josh Zakim, and Ayanna Pressley spoke in support of the order, which passed. But not all the council members shared the same enthusiasm.

Tim McCarthy, 5th District Councilor, said he was open to the idea of a hearing but made it clear he would oppose allowing noncitizens to vote in municipal elections.

“Voting is a US citizen privilege,” McCarthy said. “I, for one, will continue to fight to make sure it remains that way.”

Last November, San Francisco voted for an amendment that would allow noncitizens to vote in their school board elections. Municipalities in Maryland have already granted noncitizens certain voting rights.

In Massachusetts, Cambridge and Amherst have both petitioned for noncitizen voting, but lack the state legislation needed for implementation.

Despite national tensions and council objections, Campbell seemed optimistic about this “complicated” conversation. Campbell said the policies and rhetoric in Washington have put legal, noncitizen residents at a crossroads.

“We have to deal in the space of reality. So, what are we going to do to support and empower them?”

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