Viewing entries tagged
immigrants

Comment

Grosso denounces Trump's heartless decision to end DACA

For Immediate Release:
September 5, 2017
 
Contact:
Matthew Nocella, 202.724.8105 - mnocella@dccouncil.us

Grosso denounces Trump's heartless decision to end DACA

Washington, D.C. – Councilmember David Grosso (I-At Large), chairperson of the Committee on Education, released the following statement, on today’s announcement that President Donald Trump will end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program in six months:

“President Trump’s decision to end DACA is simply heartless.  These young people have built a life here—living, learning, and working alongside neighbors, families, and friends. The District of Columbia and the whole country are better for it. Casting their lives into further uncertainty, he has chosen to abdicate his moral leadership and recklessly pin their futures on the whims of Congress by delaying action for another six months.

“Only hate could motivate a president to tear these individuals from their communities like this. I urge Congress to act before the March expiration of the program to secure the place of DACA recipients in our country.

“As the Chairperson of the Committee of Education, I am particularly concerned about how this assault on families and neighborhoods will negatively affect students, filling them with fear and causing emotional distress over the possibility that they or a loved one could be snatched away at any time. Trauma such as this stands as a significant barrier to the success of our students—one that I have worked to address as a top priority of the committee.

“The District of Columbia stands for the human rights of everyone, including our immigrant neighbors regardless of legal status.  I pledge to do everything I can on the Council to protect their place in our city and in our nation.  I implore the young people impacted by this terrible decision to keep studying, working, and striving toward their dreams.

“This year, Mayor Bowser and the Council provided $500,000 in new funds for legal service providers who stand ready to help those who need it.  I urge anyone with questions about their immigration status to contact one of the following organizations.”

  • AYUDA - (202) 387-4848
  • Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Washington, Inc. - (202) 772-4352
  • Asian Pacific American Legal Resource Center - (202) 393-3572, ex. 22
  • Torture Abolition and Survivors Support Coalition International - (202) 529-2991
  • Whitman-Walker Health Legal Services - (202) 745-7000
  • Human Rights First - (202) 547-5692
  • KIND Inc. - (202) 824-8680
  • Asian/Pacific Island Domestic Violence Resource Project Confidential Helpline - (202) 833-2233
  • DC Affordable law Firm’s D.C. Immigrants’ Rights Project, in partnership with the Ethiopian Community Center and Lutheran Social Services of the National Capital Area (202) 844-5430
  • CARECEN - (202) 328-9799
  • CAIR Coalition - (202) 331-3320

###

Comment

Comment

DHS responds to Councilmember Grosso's concerns over D.C. Healthcare Alliance

Earlier this month, Councilmember Grosso wrote to the Department of Human Services raising concerns that individuals were being denied eligibility to the D.C. Healthcare Alliance program based on their immigration status, which he believes should not be relevant to the determination of their eligibility for the program.

For the particular issue that the councilmember raised, DHS informs him that they are in the process of considering precisely how an asylum seeker on a tourist visa may prove thier intent to reside in D.C. to make eligibility for the program.

You can read the full letter from Councilmember Grosso, and DHS's response, below.

Comment

Comment

Supporting Immigrant Students and Their Families

By Eli Moraru*

In the Trump era, immigration has become a hot topic across the country. With a new push for deportations and the “Muslim ban” taking effect, immigrants across the nation fear for their safety and rights. The District of Columbia has promised to be a sanctuary city for all, but for many immigrant students and their families, these policies and laws are not enough to help them feel at home in our city.

For immigrant students, the new Trump policies are affecting their ability to succeed in school and feel safe in their communities. Supporting these young people and their families is key to making D.C. a better city. With around 23% of all D.C. residents being foreign born, it is important that immigrants and immigrant students are able to thrive in our communities.

As a member of the Woodrow Wilson Senior High School community and leader of the student group Estudiante 2 Estudiante (a student run group that pairs new immigrant students with accustomed students to create a sense of community for immigrant students through discussions, soccer, tutoring, mentoring, and fostering friendships between these students), I am able to talk to the students who are most affected by the Trump administration’s policies. I have met Angel (name has been changed for privacy), a rising junior and an undocumented immigrant. Angel and I have been able to develop a friendship through E2E and because of this, I have become more aware of the issues he faces as an immigrant student in D.C. during the time of the Trump administration. He has told me of his fear of getting deported like his brother, of spending another birthday in a detention center, and his frustration at not being able to understand what his art teacher is assigning. Every day he must face the obstacles of school, his limited English, and the fear of deportation in a city that is new to him.

Angel is just one of thousands of local immigrant students who are affected by the Trump administration's policies. Like Angel, these students are often unable to communicate with their faculty, don’t know their rights, and feel isolated in their school communities. To make D.C. better for these students and their families, they must be supported in and out of school.

Councilmember David Grosso has been a key leader in pushing for legislation supporting immigrant students and their families. In 2015, Grosso introduced the Language Access for Education Act, and reintroduced it in 2017, to increase the standards of language access for all education and government services for D.C. residents without proficiency in English. It would require all schools to have translations of all essential information, which would be key for enabling immigrant families to be involved in their school communities. This act would help immigrant students and their families to communicate with their schools and would create interactions between students and faculty that would lead to greater success for immigrant students in school.

The success of immigrant students heavily relies upon them feeling safe in their academic and local environments. These learners should be able to focus on school and not worry about their immigration status and the status of their family members. To protect these immigrants and help keep peace of mind, Councilmembers Grosso, Jack Evans, and Brianne Nadeau introduced the One License for One DC Amendment Act of 2017. This act would make all IDs produced by the DMV look identical, regardless of immigration status. This would prevent ICE agents from using government-issued IDs as a means of targeting undocumented immigrants. By having one less fear, immigrant students can focus more on school and pursue their academic dreams.

The Access to Justice for Immigrants Amendment Act of 2017 is another extremely important bill, currently under Council consideration.  This bill will help to further defend the rights of immigrants, by supporting nonprofit organizations that provide civil legal assistance to low-income residents as well as civil immigration legal services.  With the passage of this bill, the District will have more lawyers capable of protecting the rights of all residents.

At the Columbia Heights Education Campus (CHEC), announcements are made about ICE raids to ensure that students are aware of safe routes home after school. Staff members at Woodrow Wilson Senior High School have posted papers of what to do when approached by an ICE agent and the DCPS policies regarding ICE raids. An annual resource fair for non-English speaking students is held at CHEC to help all D.C. students find the resources they need. DCPS has also released statements of their policies to ensure students know their rights and access their education. The actions taken by these schools have supported immigrant students and has made their school communities safer.

The D.C. Council has promised to “defend the safety, dignity, and liberty of all our residents.” While they have passed a lot of legislation that helps immigrant students feel safe, protected, and aware of their rights, our city still has a long way to go to guarantee this during the Trump era. It is necessary to promote diversity and cross-cultural interactions in our schools and our city, help immigrant students and their families feel safe, make sure all D.C. residents know their rights, and create a greater sense of community.

School staff should be encouraged to be bilingual and our city should attempt to campaign for more people to learn another language. All messages (phone calls, emails, etc.) sent out by D.C. schools, not just essential information, should be sent out with translations to help immigrant families of young learners have a better understanding of their school community.  Monthly legal meetings should be held at all schools so immigrants can know their rights and feel safer in their communities. School staff should obtain basic legal training to be able to educate immigrant students and their families. These changes help support immigrant students and their families and will make D.C. a better city for all residents.

As a sanctuary city, D.C. is a community for all. For Angel and the thousands of immigrant student like him, D.C. is their new home. To resist the divisive policies and rhetoric introduced by the Trump administration such as the “Muslim Ban” and the “border wall”, the District of Columbia must support immigrants in every way possible. Helping immigrant students become a part of our city’s community is necessary to make our city, and our country, stronger.

*This post is part of an ongoing series of posts by Councilmember Grosso’s staff to support professional development. All posts are approved and endorsed by Councilmember Grosso. Eli Moraru is an intern with the Office of Councilmember Grosso and a rising senior at Woodrow Wilson Senior High School.*

Comment

2 Comments

One License For One D.C. Amendment Act of 2017

One License For One D.C. Amendment Act of 2017

Introduced: February 21, 2017

Co-introducers: Councilmembers Jack Evans and Brianne Nadeau

Summary: To amend the District of Columbia Traffic Act, 1925 to eliminate the distinguishing features of the limited purpose driver’s license.

Councilmember Grosso's Introduction Statement:

Thank you Chairman Mendelson.

Today, along with Councilmembers Nadeau, and Evans, I am introducing the One License for One D.C. Amendment Act of 2017.

During my first year on this Council, we passed important legislation to allow residents of our city who do not have legal immigration status to get driver’s licenses and identity cards.

We passed that bill both to improve safety on our roads and to ensure more equitable access to IDs, which have become so critical to daily life in our day and age.

While I supported the goal of that legislation, unfortunately I could not agree with the provision that required all licenses and non-driver’s ID cards issued to undocumented immigrants be marked differently than the credentials issued to everyone else in the city.

I argued at the time against having a different license or ID for undocumented immigrants because it would make them an easy target for federal authorities.

We have seen the indiscriminate disregard for human dignity and due process in immigration enforcement, most recently last week when federal agents in Texas arrested a domestic violence victim while at court seeking a protection order, and ICE officers rounded up men at a church homeless shelter in Virginia.

The Washington Post reported this weekend on draft versions of new executive orders being prepared at the White House to dramatically expand raids, deportations and other enforcement actions.

Based on the aggressive stance this administration has taken against human rights, we can expect federal officials will take advantage of the fact that undocumented immigrants in our community can be identified by a phrase on their licenses.

A document issued by our local government will be used by federal officials to arrest, detain and deport our residents, tearing apart families and wrecking communities.

The One License for One D.C. Amendment Act seeks to prevent this scenario from playing out by removing the distinguishing phrase “not valid for official federal purposes” from the limited purpose driver’s license and ensuring that licenses and ID cards issued by the D.C. government look the same no matter your immigration status.

It is a very simple change that will have far-reaching effects, strengthening our stance as a sanctuary city and depriving the federal government of a method for targeting undocumented immigrants.

It will likely mean that D.C. will need to no longer comply with the REAL ID law, or seek an extension on compliance from the federal government, as about half of other states and territories have done.

As a sanctuary city, we should be doing everything we can to protect the human rights of our community members, not put them at greatest risk of harm.

I hope to count on my colleagues support for this and invite co-sponsors.

2 Comments

Comment

D.C. recommits to human rights as new president takes office

On Tuesday I stood with Councilmember Robert White to announce to our residents and the new administration that the District of Columbia will continue to be a bastion of human rights and work to protect the most vulnerable among us.

Like many residents, I have been anxious since November. Throughout last year’s presidential campaign, then-candidate Donald Trump promised policies that many brushed off as simple campaign rhetoric. In just the first few days of his presidency, he has confirmed that the bigotry, misogyny, racism, and xenophobia he espoused will guide his policymaking. 

We as elected leaders must stand up on behalf of our residents.  That’s why Councilmember White and I introduced the Sense of the Council Resolution in Reaffirmation of the Human Rights of District of Columbia Residents and in Opposition to Bigotry and Violence.  This document sets forth the entire Council’s opposition to many of the policies that were promised by Donald Trump.  And more importantly, that the Council of the District of Columbia will resist them.

As a Council, we resolved to:

  • reject xenophobia, racism, Islamophobia, homophobia, transphobia, disparagement of people with disabilities, misogyny, and bigotry in any form.
  • not cooperate with any effort to force individuals to register with the government based on their national origin or religious identity.
  • remain committed to our status as a sanctuary city and not participate in any federal immigration enforcement strategies that endanger those within our city.
  • welcome refugees and those fleeing violence and persecution.

The Council spoke with a unified voice.  Every member of the Council signed on as a co-introducer of these principles, which will now be sent to President Donald Trump, Vice President Mike Pence, Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.

I also applaud Mayor Muriel Bowser’s efforts to reaffirm our sanctuary city status and set up the Immigrant Justice Legal Services Grant Program.  Increasing access to attorneys for our immigrant neighbors will dramatically increase positive outcomes for them in immigration court.

More needs to be done. That same day I introduced two bills to make D.C. an even more welcoming city by providing immigrants greater access to our educational and electoral institutions.

I doubt that these recent announcements from the White House will be the last to threaten the well-being of residents of the District of Columbia. I commit to looking at every single way we can continue to protect our residents from the aggressions of the new administration and the Republican-controlled Congress. Engaging with your local officials, including myself, and our staff will be integral to this effort.  I welcome and encourage your feedback.

We must stand together as a city.  Protecting our human rights cannot be done alone.  It must be the charge of all of our elected leaders and all of our residents. We must fight for each other. We must work for the most vulnerable among us. We must lift each other up. And we must love one another.

Read the full resolution adopted by the Council below:

Comment

Comment

Bills provide equitable access to education, elections for D.C. immigrants

For Immediate Release:

January 24, 2017

Contact:

Matthew Nocella, 202.286.1987

mnocella@dccouncil.us

Bills provide equitable access to education, elections for D.C. immigrants

Washington, D.C. – As the national political climate becomes more divisive, Councilmember David Grosso today re-introduced two bills that promote the inclusion of our immigrant communities in our city’s educational and electoral institutions.

“D.C. welcomes and embraces the diversity that has made America great for centuries,” Grosso said. “Regardless of what language they speak, regardless of where they were born, immigrants are an integral part of our neighborhoods. We must therefore ensure that they have every opportunity to fully participate.”

The Language Access for Education Amendment Act of 2017 strengthens existing law by increasing the standards of the Language Access Act for government services for all non-English proficient residents.

The bill requires that each public school and public charter school provide translations of essential educational information, such as data relating to a student's well-being and educational progress.

“As chairperson of the Committee on Education, I know that having parents who are actively involved in the education of their child is critical to their success,” Grosso said. “Putting students in the best position to succeed means ensuring that information is made available to their parents in the language they speak.”

The bill also requires that each public and public charter school with a 5 percent or more non-English proficient population, must designate a culturally competent language access liaison at each school and designate a language access coordinator for each local education agency. 

The second bill, the Local Resident Voting Rights Amendment Act of 2017, would grant voting rights in local municipal elections to D.C. residents who are not U.S. citizens but have permanent residency status.

“’All politics is local’ is a common phrase in the U.S. political system and what most District residents care about are the tangible things that affect their day-to-day lives like education, potholes, playgrounds, taxes, snow removal, trash collection, red light cameras and more,” Grosso said. “Everyone deserves a voice in their government. We cannot perpetuate the same injustice in our own city that is imposed upon us by the federal government each day.”

Currently, there are seven jurisdictions where non-citizens can vote in local elections in the U.S., six of which are in neighboring Maryland. None of these cities or towns has experienced incidents of voting fraud with regard to non-citizens voting in federal elections. 

Both bills have been introduced in previous council periods and have received hearings. Under Council rules no additional hearings will be necessary for committees to act on the legislation.

###

Comment

Comment

Local Resident Voting Rights Amendment Act of 2017

Local Resident Voting Rights Amendment Act of 2017

Introduced: January 24, 2017

Co-introducers: Councilmembers Grosso, Silverman, Allen, Nadeau, R. White, Evans, and Bonds

Summary: To amend the District of Columbia Election Code of 1955 to expand the definition of "qualified elector" to include permanent residents for the purpose of local elections.

Councilmember Grosso's Introduction Statement:

Thank you, Mr. Chairman. 

Today, along with Councilmembers Jack Evans, Brianne Nadeau, Elissa Silverman, and Robert White, I am introducing the Local Resident Voting Rights Amendment Act of 2017. 

This bill allows permanent residents in the District of Columbia, who are not yet U.S. citizens, the right to vote in our local municipal elections. These residents are well on their path to citizenship.  This bill will allow them to legally participation in our elections for the Mayor, Council, State Board of Education, ANC’s and the Attorney General.  

“All politics is local” is a common phrase in the U.S. political system.  What most D.C. residents care about are the local issues of city life that affect them day-to-day.  This includes our public schools, paying their taxes, having access to quality health care, crime rates in neighborhoods, and so much more.  All of these issues are important to voters in the District of Columbia but unfortunately, not all of our residents have a say in choosing the officials who make the policy decisions that will directly impact them.  In my opinion, that is unjust.

Since 1970, the District of Columbia has seen a steady increase in the number of foreign-born residents and according to the U.S. Census Bureau report in 2012, 54,000 residents in the District were foreign born, but not naturalized U.S. citizens and this number is growing.  Over 90% of legal permanent residents are 18 years of age or older. These are law-abiding taxpayers and they should have the opportunity to have their voices heard in local elections.

I recognize that this is a very political and polarizing issue further agitated by the incoming Presidential Administration and current Congressional make-up.  I strongly believe that the result of the national election reverberated in our city perhaps more than anywhere else in the nation.

Many are scared and anxious as our future and the future of our laws are at the whim of a Congress where we have no voting representation from our city, and many of its members have never set foot in our diverse neighborhoods. 

For most of American history, noncitizens were permitted to vote in 22 states and federal territories. It was not until the 1920s that, amidst anti-immigrant hysteria, lawmakers began to bar non-citizens from voting in local and statewide elections.  Unfortunately, this hysteria continues across the United States, but it does not need to be perpetuated in the District of Columbia.

The District of Columbia is a leader in how we relate to immigrants and we are a sanctuary city – to me that means we will protect families and communities from being torn apart by immigration policies rooted in fear and bigotry. 

I want to thank my colleagues who for co-introduced this legislation with me and welcome any other co-sponsors at this time.

Thank you.

Comment

Comment

Grosso Calls on Obama Administration to Cease Raids Targeting Central American Immigrant Communities

For Immediate Release
January 29, 2016

Contact: Keenan Austin
(202) 724-8105

Grosso Calls on Obama Administration to Cease Raids Targeting Central American Immigrant Communities

Washington, D.C.—Today, D.C. Councilmember David Grosso (I-At Large) released the following statement on the recent Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) raids and deportations targeting Central American immigrant communities:

“Today I am calling on President Barack Obama and Department of Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson to cease the policy of targeting Central American immigrant communities for detention and deportation. As a young man I traveled to Honduras and El Salvador to accompany refugees seeking to return to their homes and I saw firsthand the violence affecting these communities. I know that that the legacy of that war and instability continues today.

As the Chairman on the Committee of Education, I am particularly concerned about the impact of these raids and deportations on our students and their families, filling them with fear and causing emotional distress. Trauma, whether stemming from families being raided by ICE, gun violence plaguing our streets, or economic inequality that keeps children in poverty, stand as a significant barrier to the success of the students in our schools; I have made addressing such adversity a top priority for the Committee. Families, unaccompanied minors, and workers fleeing violence and persecution in Central America need our support and care, not fear of detention and removal.

Just last summer I stood with immigrant communities and Congresswoman Norton to oppose fear-mongering and draconian legislation proposed in Congress to overturn local policies in D.C. and other jurisdictions which seek to protect human rights of immigrants. Migration is a fundamental human right recognized by the United Nations. Our federal government should focus its efforts on fixing our broken immigration system, not on breaking up families and sowing panic. President Obama should cease these ill-conceived actions immediately. In D.C. we stand for the human rights of everyone, including of our immigrant neighbors regardless of legal status.”

###

Comment

Comment

D.C. Responds To Legislation Targeting Sanctuary Cities

D.C. Responds To Legislation Targeting Sanctuary Cities

by Matt Ramos, Huffington Post, July 21, 2015

WASHINGTON -- House Republicans are making another attempt to meddle in the District of Columbia's affairs, this time in a way that immigration advocates and officials say could threaten public safety by ending the city's sanctuary policies for its estimated 25,000 undocumented immigrants.

Washington, like a number of other U.S. cities, is facing ire from Republicans for refusing to cooperate fully with Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents to detain and deport undocumented immigrants. GOP lawmakers have introduced multiple pieces of legislation this month after Francisco Sanchez, an undocumented immigrant, was charged with the murder of 32-year-old San Francisco resident Kathryn Steinle, months after Sanchez had been released from jail.

There are more than 300 jurisdictions that could be affected if various anti-sanctuary city bills become law. But D.C. is in a unique situation, because Congress has the power to interfere with the decisions of local voters and elected officials.

Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Texas) specifically targets D.C. in a new bill, requiring local authorities to work with immigration enforcement or face fines of up to $10,000 for every case they do not cooperate with. Gohmert, who represents a district nearly 1,300 miles away from D.C., said in a July 23 press release that he drafted the Safer D.C. Act because “Congress must use our explicit Constitutional power to ensure that at least the District of Columbia is not a sanctuary city.”

District of Columbia officials disagree. For over 20 years, the city's Metropolitan Police Department has had an informal policy of not asking the legal status of people with whom it comes into contact. That policy was made public in 2007 after then-Chief Charles H. Ramsey released an internal memo that stated, “MPD is not in the business of inquiring about the residency status of the people we serve and it is not in the business of enforcing civil immigration laws.”

In 2011, then-Mayor Vincent Gray took the MPD memo even further by signing an executive order that prohibited D.C. public safety officials from asking about the immigration status of anyone they arrested or questioned. The following year, the city council passed a law saying that D.C. authorities would only detain undocumented immigrants if the federal government paid for it.

Supporters of the policies argue that involving police in immigration enforcement could discourage undocumented immigrants from calling the authorities when they have an emergency. According to a survey by the National Latin@ Network and the National Domestic Violence Hotline, of the 330 or so women who called the hotline during a six-week period in 2013 and who identified as a) foreign-born and b) Hispanic or Latina, 45 percent said they were afraid to call or seek help from the police or courts.

Current Metro PD policy allows officials to comply with federal immigration authorities at their own discretion. Most instances of cooperation involve cases where there is a violent offender.

“Women know that for survivors of domestic violence to get help, police cannot be working with immigration," said Sameera Hafiz, an activist with the We Belong Together Campaign, at a press conference Thursday. "Women know that to protect women who are being raped by their bosses, the police cannot be deporters.”

Hafiz and others at the press conference criticized politicians for, in her words, using Steinle's death "for political gains."

In the wake of the Steinle murder earlier this month, Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.) introduced the Enforce the Law for Sanctuary Cities Act, which would force local law enforcement in communities like D.C. to change their immigration policies or else lose funding. The bill passed the House in a 241-179 vote on July 24, but President Barack Obama has already said he will veto the legislation if it reaches his desk.

For bills that target D.C. directly, there is not much officials can do without statehood, city Councilmember-At-Large David Grosso (I) told The Huffington Post after the press conference.

Now that bills like Hunter’s are starting to affect other municipalities, there could be a nationwide push to address what Grosso described as the encroaching legislation.

“Somebody that is having an interaction with the police -- whether it's because of an act that they did themselves, or because of somebody else that they’re associated with, as with domestic violence cases -- they have to have the trust that the police aren’t going to then turn around and have them deported out of the country," he said.

Immigration advocates oppose laws like Gohmert's and Hunter's for reasons beyond safety. Mario Godoy, 18, an organizer with the Student Multiethnic Action Research Team (SMART), said that blurring the lines between policing and immigration enforcement could hurt people like him.

“I’m just a person with a dream of a better life and an education," said Godoy, who came to D.C. four years ago from Guatemala. "If any of these laws pass, every person that is detained, their dreams and safety will be lost."

Grosso said he just wants the District to be able to assert local control.

“In the long run, we have to stop these knuckleheads on the Hill from doing what they're doing -- tell them to butt out of our business, and leave the local municipalities alone and let us deal with our communities like we have been,” he said.

Comment

Comment

Grosso, Norton and Human Rights Groups Denounce Anti-Immigrant Proposals in Congress Aimed at D.C. and Other Localities

For Immediate Release
July 30, 2015

Contact: Darby Hickey
(202) 724-8105

Grosso, Norton and Human Rights Groups Denounce Anti-Immigrant Proposals in Congress Aimed at D.C. and Other Localities

Washington, D.C.—Today, D.C. Councilmember David Grosso (I-At Large) joins Rep.Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC) and community groups to denounce new anti-immigrant proposals in Congress. Bills in the House and Senate seek to mandate that so-called “Sanctuary Cities” must proactively enforce federal immigration laws. One bill, the Safer D.C. Act of 2015 introduced by Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-TX), would specifically target the District of Columbia, seeking to overturn local laws and policies that prevent racial profiling, ensure equal protection, and build trust between local immigrants and the government.

“Unfortunately, this is only the latest in a long history of Congressional meddling in local D.C. affairs,” said Grosso. “It is shameful that anti-immigrant politicians are exploiting a tragedy in San Francisco to push their agenda. The House and Senate need to focus on passing comprehensive immigration reform, and leave jurisdictions like D.C. to make their own decisions regarding local law enforcement.”

A D.C. mayoral order prohibits police from inquiring about immigration status during interactions with community members, and D.C. law limits the conditions under which inmates may be transferred to immigration detention. The Safer D.C. Act, the Enforce the Law for Sanctuary Cities Act, and other Congressional proposals seek to force localities to participate in immigration law enforcement by cutting their share of Department of Justice funding.

“In D.C., we stand for human rights--for immigrants, for women, for LGBT folks, for everyone,” said Grosso. “We are proud of our 20 year tradition of inclusion of our immigrant residents. Our policies save tax dollars, keep families together, uphold basic principles of fairness, and build public trust between local government and the immigrant community.”

###

Comment

Comment

D.C. and New York City Could be Next in Giving the Vote to Noncitizens

By J. Weston Phippen, July 15, 2015, National Journal

In Washington, D.C., about 54,000 people pay taxes, send their kids to school and can join the military because they have green cards, making them legal U.S. residents. But because they're not citizens, they can't vote for who runs their children's' schools, what city hall does with their tax money, or who manages essential public services in their neighborhoods.

There are about 12 million immigrants in similar situations nationwide.

In D.C., about one in eight people are immigrants, but only 30 percent of them are citizens eligible to vote. Last week, local D.C. legislators heard mostly supportive testimony for a bill that would grant voting rights to noncitizen residents.

The Local Resident Voting Rights Act of 2015, introduced by council member David Grosso, would allow legal residents to vote for, among other things, leaders on the education board, city council members, and the mayor.

Given today's heated immigration reform debates, the idea is extremely controversial. However, six towns in Maryland have similar laws allowing noncitizens to vote in local elections, the oldest being Takoma Park. Chicago allows permanent residents who are parents of schoolchildren to vote in district elections. And in New York City, a council member is currently drafting a similar bill that would extend local voting rights to 1 million people. Two years ago, Queens council member Daniel Dromm had the city council's majority support, but Mayor Michael Bloomberg came out against it. The bill never saw a vote. But now there's a new mayor, and the proposed law is expected to gain wide support once more.

Critics of such legislation often say that allowing noncitizens to vote would tarnish what is supposed to be a sacred privilege.

Dorothy Brizill, a local D.C. activist, told WAMU that something like this is "particularly sensitive, and of concern to those individuals, both black and white, who are aware of the long historical struggle to secure the right to vote for all American citizens. For many, the right to vote is the essence of citizenship."

Grosso understands this concern, but he thinks that "when you're talking about these very local issues that impact you on a day-to-day basis, I don't think that requires being a citizen."

The history of noncitizen voters goes back several hundred years. From 1776 to 1926, the U.S. allowed some noncitizens to vote in more than 40 states and federal territories

It began, says Ron Hayduk, a professor of political science at Queens College in New York, with noncitizens demanding voting privileges. That turned into a battle cry: "No taxation without representation!"

Noncitizen voters helped expand the American West. They settled territories that later became states. Then, in the 1920s, anti-immigrant sentiment spread across the country. In response, the government set quotas for how many people could enter the United States, and from which countries.

Hayduk advocates for noncitizen voting rights in local elections, and he even wrote an op-ed in the Los Angeles Times. In it, he wrote that in some towns, noncitizens make up almost half of voting-age adults who have no say in their local government. Even in places like Los Angeles and New York City, they make up one-third to a quarter of the voting age of the population.

"Noncitizens suffer social and economic inequities, in part, because policymakers can ignore their interests," Hayduk wrote in the op-ed. "The vote is a proven mechanism to keep government responsive and accountable to all."

Opponents believe that noncitizens get a good deal from their tax money. They gain access to social services and public schools. They can serve in community organizations. And, some argue, blurring the line between citizens and noncitizens will only lead to confusion.

"Boy, is that a slippery slope," says Ken Boehm, chairman of the National Legal and Policy Center.

Boehm says his wife immigrated to the U.S. from Nicaragua and spent years obtaining citizenship. Voting is a privilege for those who struggled through the process. Anything else would be "diluting the value" of citizenship, he says.

There's also, he believes, quite a bit of political pandering in a bill like this. "The people who advocate this clearly think they would get the votes of the noncitizens," Boehm says.

Yet there are a lot of people who live in this country for many years, hoping to become citizens, but can't because of how hard it has become. "We always encourage people to become full citizens," says Jaime Contreras, vice president of the D.C. division of the Service Employees International Union, called 32BJ. "This is a good first step to give them a local voice in their politics."

Most of the people Contreras advocates for in D.C. are Latino immigrants. Many come from El Salvador and work as security officers or in maintenance. They clean public schools, offices, and buildings where politicians meet. The majority would like to become citizens, Contreras says, but the average wait is about eight years. And it's expensive. So as they wait for citizenship, they live, work, and become part of communities in which they have no say.

D.C. residents can empathize with this, as they have no voting power in Congress. This despite paying federal taxes and having a population as large as the state of Wyoming. They are constantly reminded of this fact, because their license plates bare that revolutionary slogan, "No taxation without representation."

Comment

Over 70 Witnesses Support Grosso’s Bill to Expand Language Access

Comment

Over 70 Witnesses Support Grosso’s Bill to Expand Language Access

Today, Councilmembers David Grosso (I-At-Large), Kenyan McDuffie, and Council Chairman Phil Mendelson convened a joint hearing on the “Language Access for Education Amendment Act of 2015.”  Grosso introduced this bill in February, to strengthen existing law by increasing the standards of language access for all education and government services for all of our non-English proficient residents. 

Comment

Comment

D.C., other cities debate whether legal immigrants should have voting rights

By Pamela Constable February 9, 2015, Washington Post

David Nolan and Helen Searls are a professional couple in the District, active in their children’s school and local civic associations. As taxpayers and longtime residents, they feel they have a duty to be involved in public life. But as legal immigrants who have not become U.S. citizens, they have no right to vote — even in local elections.

“It’s frustrating at election time to have no say in what’s happening,” said the British-born Searls, 54, who works at a media company. “Washington has people from all over the world. If they are engaged and participating in public issues, it benefits the city.”

Searls and Nolan are among 54,000 immigrants in the District — and about 12 million nationwide — who have been granted green cards that allow them to remain in the United States permanently. Most are sponsored by relatives or employers. They pay taxes and serve in the armed forces. Yet in all but a handful of localities, they have no voting rights.

Last month, for the third time in a decade, a bill was introduced in the D.C. Council to allow legal immigrants to vote locally. The measure has little chance of passage, but it is illustrative of a growing movement to expand local voting rights to noncitizens that has spawned similar proposals in several dozen communities across the country.

Most immigrant groups focus on promoting citizenship as the path to political influence, and the effort to enfranchise noncitizens remains controversial. It has succeeded in only a handful of places, including Chicago and Takoma Park, Md., but has been gaining traction recently in others, including New York City and Burlington, Vt., as the population of settled legal immigrants grows.

Student Maria Ferreira goes over her study book, which has questions about American history that she will need to know for a citizenship test. (Michael S. Williamson/The Washington Post)

Proponents point out that noncitizen voting was the norm early in American history, when new regions needed people to populate them. It was abandoned only after spates of anti-foreign sentiment in the 1860s and 1920s. Proponents have not urged that immigrants be allowed to vote for president, which is against federal law; they want them to be permitted a political role in their communities.

But opponents assert that the right to vote at any level is a defining quality of citizenship. They say it should not be easily granted to the foreign-born, who might have divided loyalties and insufficient knowledge of American democracy. And they point out that any legal permanent resident can apply to become a U.S. citizen with full voting rights after a five-year wait.

“To be a voter is to signify that you have cleared hurdles and that you understand what it means to be an American, with responsibilities as well as rights,” said Carl Horowitz, president of the National Legal and Policy Center, a conservative think tank in Falls Church, Va. Allowing noncitizens to vote, he said, “renders the idea of citizenship meaningless.”

Some opponents also think the campaign is part of a political scheme to create more Latino voters, who polls show tend to prefer Democrats — a concern that has spread with the protracted debate over illegal immigration. The largest numbers of green-card holders are from Mexico, followed by China, India and the Philippines.

D.C. Council member David Grosso (I-At Large), who introduced the immigrant voting bill last month, said his attempt in 2013 met with a “huge backlash,” and he acknowledged that the new proposal is unlikely to go far. A similar bill in 2004 also died.

“This is the right thing to do, but a lot of people still have a misguided understanding of what it’s about,” Grosso said. “I get e-mails and tweets from around the country saying I want to give the vote to people who snuck over the border.”

Despite such fears, advocates said the political impact of the noncitizen vote has often been marginal. In many cases, the impetus has come from liberal or civic groups, while the beneficiaries may be less enthusiastic or aware of the benefits.

Washingtonians David J. Nolan and his wife, Helen Searls, say they hope to become U.S. citizens so they can vote. (Michael S. Williamson/The Washington Post)

The pioneering community was Takoma Park, which gave legal immigrants voting rights in a 1991 referendum. Sean Whittaker, 46, a Canadian-born engineer who lives there, said that being able to vote made him feel as if he truly belonged in the community. In the town’s most recent election, the district candidate he supported won by six votes. “Maybe I made a difference,” Whittaker said.

Since then, four other Maryland towns have approved similar policies, although noncitizens cannot vote in state elections. In 2012, Del. Patrick L. McDonough (R-Baltimore County) sponsored a bill to ban noncitizens from voting in any Maryland locality, warning hyperbolically that even Osama bin Laden would have been allowed to vote in Takoma Park.

But the repercussions from Maryland’s experiment have been far from dire. Takoma Park officials say no more than a handful of immigrants have voted in any local election, where turnout is also generally low among citizens, too.

“This has not fulfilled either the worst predictions of critics nor the great hopes of supporters,” said state Sen. Jamin Raskin (D-Montgomery), a law professor who helped pave the legal path for the initiative. Still, he said, “it has remained an important statement of welcome, a way to give people a taste for the democratic process.”

Elsewhere in the United States, efforts to enfranchise foreign-born residents have spread to scattered municipalities, including liberal college towns such as Madison, Wis., and Amherst, Mass., and cities with large immigrant populations.

But such proposals have also encountered an array of hurdles, including conflicts with state laws, public antipathy and lack of awareness among immigrant groups. In 2010, voters in Portland, Maine, narrowly rejected a proposal for noncitizen voting in local elections, and a ballot measure in San Francisco to allow noncitizen parents to vote for school board members lost by 55 to 45 percent.

In Amherst, activist Vladi­mir Morales, who has spent a decade promoting the cause, said the idea has wide local support but continues to meet resistance from state legislators, who would have to amend home-rule laws to allow it.

“There is fear. The subject is immigration, and the representatives don’t want to touch it. It just keeps dying in committee,” said Morales, a U.S. citizen from Puerto Rico and a retired Amherst school board member.

In New York, home to about 1.3 million legal permanent residents, noncitizens were allowed to vote in school board elections from 1969 to 2003, when the board system was abolished. In recent years, a coalition of academic, political and immigrant groups has been trying to revive noncitizen voting rights and expand them to all local offices. Advocates said they are close to securing enough city council support to pass legislation this spring, but they lamented that the area’s major immigrant groups have not gotten involved.

“It’s hard to sell,” said David Andersson, the coalition coordinator. “Most voters don’t understand what legal immigrants are, and a lot of immigrant groups are focused on issues like deportation and wages. Sadly, voting is just not a priority.”

In the Washington area, few people know about Grosso’s proposal and few groups have expressed support, except the Service Employees International Union. But many of its members are not legal residents, and the union is strongly identified with illegal-immigrant causes.

Still, a variety of legal immigrants in the District said they would welcome being able to vote for city council and Board of Education members. Some said they wanted to become citizens but had difficulty passing the required tests in English.

At the Central American Resource Center in Northwest Washington, a half-dozen middle-aged Latinos bent over citizenship test workbooks one night last week, struggling with questions that ranged from “What is your current occupation?” to “Why did the colonists come to America?” and “What rights are in the Declaration of Independence?”

Maria Carpio, 57, a retired office cleaner from El Salvador, has been a legal resident since 1987. She said she had failed the citizenship test because of her limited eyesight and poor English, but that she volunteered to pass out fliers for a Latino school board candidate in November.

“I have worked hard here all my life,” Carpio said. “I should have the right to express my opinion.”

Comment

1 Comment

Grosso Introduces Bill to Expand Voting Rights in Local Elections to Permanent Resident Immigrants in D.C.

For Immediate Release
January 20, 2015

Contact: Dionne Johnson Calhoun
(202) 724-8105

 

Grosso Introduces Bill to Expand Voting Rights in Local Elections to Permanent Resident Immigrants in D.C.

 

Washington, D.C. – Today, Councilmember David Grosso (I-At-Large) introduced the Local Resident Voting Rights Amendment Act of 2015, a bill to grant voting rights in local municipal elections to all non-citizens in D.C. with permanent residency immigration status.

The full text of Grosso's statement follows:

This morning along with Councilmembers Allen, Nadeau, Evans and Silverman, I introduced the Local Resident Voting Rights Amendment Act of 2015. This bill would grant voting rights in local municipal elections to D.C. residents who are not U.S. citizens but have permanent residency status.

“All politics is local” is a common phrase in the U.S. political system and what most District residents care about are the tangible things that affect their day-to-day lives like potholes, playgrounds, taxes, snow removal, trash collection, red light cameras and more.  All of these issues are important to voters in D.C.  Unfortunately, not all of our residents have a say in choosing the officials who make these decisions.  In my opinion, that is unjust.

Since 1970, the District of Columbia has had a steady increase in the number of foreign-born residents. According to the U.S. Census Bureau (2012), approximately 53,975 residents in the District are foreign born, but not naturalized U.S. citizens.  Over 90% of that population is 18 years of age or older. These are taxpayers who should have the opportunity to have their voices heard in local elections.

For most of American history, non-citizens were permitted to vote in 22 states and federal territories. It was not until the 1920s that, amidst anti-immigrant hysteria, lawmakers began to bar non-citizens from voting in local and statewide elections.  Unfortunately, this hysteria continues across the United States, but it does not need to continue any longer in the District of Columbia.

Currently, there are seven jurisdictions where non-citizens can vote in local elections in the U.S., six of which are in neighboring Maryland. None of these cities or towns has experienced incidents of voting fraud with regard to non-citizens voting in federal elections.  A similar bill was introduced in the Council in 2004 and unfortunately, due to the political climate at the time regarding immigration reform, it did not receive full consideration by this Council. Eleven years later, the time is now to reignite this conversation.

###

1 Comment

Comment

Local Resident Voting Rights Act of 2013

This morning along with Councilmembers Graham, Bowser and Wells, I introduced the Local Resident Voting Rights Act of 2013. This bill would grant DC residents who are not U.S. citizens but are legal permanent residents voting rights for local municipal elections.

“All politics is local” is a common phrase in the U.S. political system. And while plenty of ink is spilled in this town giving the play-by-play on the endless rounds of political tug-a-war on the federal level, what most District residents care are the tangible things that affect their day-to-day life.

Pot holes, community centers, playgrounds, minimum wage, taxes, supercans, snow removal, alley closings, alcohol license moratoriums, red light cameras…these are all important issues that voters in the District of Columbia entrust their leaders with. And unfortunately, not all of our residents have say in choosing the individuals who make these decisions. In my opinion, that is unjust.

Since 1970, the District of Columbia has had a steady increase in the number of foreign-born residents. According to the U.S. Census Bureau (2012), approximately 53,975 residents in the District are foreign born, but not naturalized U.S. citizens.  Over 90% of that population is 18 years of age or older. These are law-abiding taxpayers who should have the opportunity to have their voices heard in local elections.

For most of American history, noncitizens were permitted to vote in 22 states and federal territories. It was not until the 1920s that, amidst anti-immigrant hysteria, lawmakers began to bar noncitizens from voting in local and statewide elections.

Currently, there are seven jurisdictions where noncitizens can vote in local elections in the U.S., six of which are in neighboring Maryland. None of these cities or towns has experienced incidents of voting fraud with regard to noncitizens voting in federal elections.

A similar bill was introduced in the Council in 2004 and unfortunately due to the political climate at the time regarding immigration reform, did not receive a full consideration by this Council. Almost ten years later, its time for us to reignite this conversation. After all, if we are in fact ‘One City’, how can we continue to deny every legal District resident of age their one vote?

Comment