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The Immigrant Vote Doesn't Exist
Peggy Sands Orchowski -- Immigration Expert Peggy Sands Orchowski -- Immigration Expert
Washington , DC
Tuesday, October 16, 2018


The Immigrant Vote Doesn't Exist

By Peggy Orchowski

It's three weeks to the 2018 midterm election and the main topic of conversation on most all the news channels is whether or not Congress will change majorities from Republican to Democrat.  Most pundits breathlessly report that this is "the most important midterm election in recent history".  Everyone agrees it will come down to voter turnout.

But who is a voter?

It should be clear. Even in these contentious times, there are two simple basics about voting that almost everyone no matter what political party they belong to, can agree on:

  1. Only citizens can vote.
  2. Every voter only gets to vote once in an election.

But in practice and in certain areas of the country, both of those basics are being abused. The voting system, like just about everything in our FEDERAL republic, is determined by each state.  States can and do have widely different processes for registering and casting votes. There is no national system. The U.S. voting system has always been an honorary one from registering to vote to casting a ballot.  We assume everyone is following the simple rules.

For instance, many states do not ask for proof of identification nor citizenship on the registration form nor when signing in to vote at a voting station, nor in casting an absentee or electronic ballot. It is assumed that if one checks a box (or doesn't depending on the state) they are who they say they are and a citizen. Proof of residency often via a utility bill is deemed enough. Many argue that it is even unconstitutional to pose the question.

Similarly there is no national system for states to cross-check votes cast by absentee ballots in one state or district, with votes cast in another.  Many people are registered in various jurisdictions – that is not illegal per se.  But those who live out of their district -- especially out-of-area college students -- who are eager to vote, can easily mail in a paper absentee ballot to their home district or state and cast a provisional ballot at their college and residency voting station with impunity

It is certainly not helpful when immigrant advocates in the media or in think tanks talk about "the immigrant vote".  President Clinton's (former) Director of the (now defunct) Immigration and Naturalization Services Doris Meissner did so several times on Oct. 1 at the annual day-long Law and Immigration Forum at Georgetown University Law Center in Washington DC, of all places.

But immigrants cannot legally vote.  Even those who have been here for decades on green cards – Permanent Legal Residency (PLR) permits - are not citizens, although they hold the one permit that allows them to apply for citizenship after about five years residency.

A few locales allow PLRs to vote in local elections. That is their decision. But then that jurisdiction must devise a system where those immigrants' voter registrations are tagged so they are not allowed to vote in federal elections.

The simple fact again is that all immigrants (permanent, temporary and illegal) by definition are not citizens.  And once they are naturalized as an Amercan citizen, they are no longer an immigrant – they no longer have an immigration status  (allow me to rudely add the comment "duh!").

It is disingenuous to refer to a naturalized citizen voter who used to be an immigrant, as an immigrant voter.  It is a dangerous slide.  How far back does the immigrant label go?  Their lifetime? Their parents and grandparents lifetime? For how many generations are naturalized citizens still to be labeled as immigrants?

The answer is none.  Once a citizen, a former immigrant is no longer an immigrant.

 And there is no such thing as the immigrant vote.


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“We can’t know where we’re going if we don’t know where we’ve been”. Vice President of the Brookings Institution Darrell West wrote in recommending Peggy Sands Orchowski’s books   "The Law That Changed The Face of America: The Immigration and Naturalization Act of 1965" and  "Immigration and the American Dream: Battling the Political Hype and Hysteria" (Rowman & Littlefield, 2015 and 2008 respectively).  Peggy is a credentialed Senior Congressional journalist in Washington DC. She is available for interviews, article assignments and speaking engagements about immigration   porchowski@hotmail.com

Peggy Sands Orchowski
Senior Congressional Correspondent
Washington, DC
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