Voting and Immigrants

This November brings the Presidential election. We would have a new leader to steer the country. Lots of excitement and expectations would be in the air, and hopefully, many votes would be cast. But the coming election also worries me as to how many people are casting votes, not knowing whether they should or should not be doing so.

As a general rule, voting in general elections is a right of the citizens of a country. Many foreign nationals in the United States choose not to naturalize even after years of acquiring lawful permanent residence. These residents largely have the same rights and duties as citizens except for a few, including the right to vote or serve as a jury which is special to citizens only.

Immigration and Nationality Law treats a foreign national who has voted in violation of any Federal, State, or local constitutional provision, statute, ordinance, or regulation as "inadmissible" and /or "deportable." A non-U.S. citizen voting in violation of any of those provisions would lose eligibility to seek admission into the United States and, if (s)/he were already present in the country, become deportable.

In addition, registering to vote but not voting could impair the eligibility to naturalize if done in violation of lawful restrictions placed on such registration. At the least, it would be either a false statement or a false claim to citizenship to receive a benefit; if the benefit (registering to vote) was restricted to citizens alone, both affecting the ability to naturalize. Similarly, responding to a call to jury duty may jeopardize the naturalization prospects. The jury pool is selected from various sources, not necessarily considering the nationality of the selected person. Frequently, foreign nationals receive calls to perform jury duty. Proper steps should be taken to avoid making false statements under oath about one's citizenship or exercising what may be considered a right belonging to citizens only.

The law expects a person making (or signing) the statement about his U.S. citizenship or eligibility to vote to take full responsibility for his actions and to serve punishment for any mistake. A foreign national making such mistake could face inadmissibility or deportation, or both. There exists a narrow exception for those who, in addition to having each natural or adoptive parent as a U.S. citizen, satisfy certain other conditions, events that are less likely to occur than winning a lottery. As you guessed it, complexity controls.

Many foreign nationals may encounter situations where they are invited to register to vote in a federal, State, or local election as a general public member. You may have to fill in a form and make a statement under oath, and as I have noticed, often, foreign nationals are not sure whether they are eligible to register or not. Some hesitatingly approach the registration desk and express doubts about their eligibility. It would be helpful if the eligibility criteria are displayed at the relevant places or, even better if the person at the voting or registration desk is knowledgeable enough to advise whether you could or could not vote or register. Enquire if such advice is readily available and, if not, where you could find it. Even then, it is your responsibility to follow the rules. Reliance on statements of those who have no duty towards you does not excuse you from bearing the consequences of your erroneous statements.

Young adults, although born outside but raised in the United States, frequently commit the mistake of registering and voting, either filled with a sense of excitement of being able to exercise a right that they believed rightly belonged to them or filled with a sense of duty to participate in the elections of the country in which they were raised as one of her men or women. Others may have voted in the local elections ignorant that citizenship was an eligibility requirement, and I would not call it a cavalier attitude. Such actions may be the result of possessing a sense of belonging to and behaving as a part of the community in which one is raised and highlight the widespread ignorance about the divides created and maintained by the nation's immigration laws.

The moral of the story is: If you plan to vote in any election, check to see the eligibility criteria and act accordingly. Know when your statements could be taken as false, and above all, take the time to educate your children and encourage them to ask themselves before voting this election, "are you a citizen yet?"

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