Over 800,000 legal immigrants in New York City — nearly 10 percent of the city’s population — don’t have voting rights. That was set to change with a new law passed by City Council that would have allowed green card holders and immigrants with work permits, including DACA recipients like myself, the right to vote in local New York City elections. But the day after the law went into effect, registered Republican voters and Republican elected officials sued to block it.
As a DACA recipient, I’ve seen how activism and political engagement can help immigrant communities. I want to build a better future for my children, and for the migrants arriving in New York City today, just as scared as I was when I came here for the first time. That’s why I became a litigant in the case to defend noncitizen voting rights in NYC after the advocacy group LatinoJustice PRLDEF filed a motion to intervene on behalf of impacted voters, including myself.
The law is now on hold, tied up in the courts, and is expected to work its way up to the Court of Appeals of New York, the highest judicial body in the State, where we hope to finally win our voice at the ballot box.
Local voting rights for noncitizens is not without precedent. Noncitizens have voting rights in several cities in Maryland and Vermont. Even here in New York City, noncitizens were long allowed to vote in local school board elections before the state handed sole control over city schools to the Mayor in 2003.
Our voice in local elections could change New York City politics for the better, including by swaying mayoral elections. For now, Mayor Adams feels like he can bash immigrants and fuel the racist right without consequence. If he knew he needed our vote, his tone would have to change.
I came to New York City as a child from the Dominican Republic and I grew up in the same neighborhood in the Bronx where I’m now raising my own children. It wasn’t easy being undocumented as a kid in New York City. My mom relied on me to translate and to fill out paperwork in English. For years, she had to work for just $60 a week because she didn’t have papers. When I was old enough to work, just like my mom, I had to take whatever job I could find because I didn’t have papers, either.
My mom is now a green card holder. I wish that both of us had a voice together in NYC local elections to vote for leaders who have the undocumented community’s future and our children’s best interest at heart, and to prevent other immigrant families across the city from repeating our story.
Even though it’s temporary and under constant threat from the courts, DACA has changed my life completely. I’ve been able to get a job on the books for the first time, doing what I love. I now work for the immigrant rights organization, Make the Road New York, using my experience and skills to advocate for my community.
My mom is in public housing, and just three weeks ago I was able to help her resolve an issue because I reached out to our local city council member. For more than six months, my mom’s refrigerator wasn’t working. She couldn’t store milk or eggs or meat at home, and leftovers were going bad before she could eat them. Because of my activism, I knew to reach out to our local City Council member, who immediately contacted the housing authority and resolved the issue.
But most immigrants don’t have that kind of access. And if I didn’t have that relationship, my mom would still be without a fridge. This is the reality for too many of New York City’s immigrants. Voting rights in local city elections would be a huge step forward toward giving us the political power we need and deserve.
The migrants that Mayor Adams claims will destroy New York City could become work permit and green card holders in the future. And I hope when that day comes, I can join them at the ballot box to vote for candidates who recognize that without immigrants there is no New York City.
Eva Santos Veloz is a DACA recipient from the Bronx and a current litigant in the pending Fossella v. Adams case