New York City’s nonvoting citizen law could strengthen the Black vote, an immigration advocate said.
The new rule, which automatically became law last week, allows more than 800,000 immigrants to vote in local elections, and a fraction of them are Black, according to New York City’s Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs (MOIA).
New York Director of African Communities Together Robert Agyemang said the move would “compel” the city’s Black vote and allow African immigrants who live and contribute to their city to have a say in how it is run.
“A lot of them pay taxes,” Agyemang said. “A lot of them are integral to what’s happening within the communities and to withhold the right or the ability for them to have a direct stake in who is overseeing the resources for their community, or who is directly responsible for the help that they will immediately get from the city government or from the other localities that they will be participating in that they should be able to have a say in that as well.”
Noncitizen voting in federal elections is illegal across the nation, but some cities have granted the right to noncitizens to vote in municipal elections. New York City is the largest city in the country to implement the law.
According to The Pew Charitable Trusts, localities in Vermont, California, Maryland, and Massachusetts have also passed laws allowing noncitizens to vote. Reuters estimates that 14 other cities in total have authorized noncitizen voting.
The New York City Council voted 33-14 to approve the measure on Dec. 8. It became law on Jan. 11 after Mayor Eric Adams allowed his veto power to expire. Under the law, green card and work permit holders can start voting in 2023.
“I believe that New Yorkers should have a say in their government, which is why I have and will continue to support this important legislation,” Adams said in a statement.
MOIA Press Secretary Shaina Coronel said disclosure-protected data from the U.S. Census shows there are about 213,000 Black noncitizens in the city over 18 years old. Still, the real number is unknown because many fear immigration authorities. Some estimates put the total number of immigrants in New York near 1 million.
Agyemang said the city’s African population believes the law is long overdue. However, some critics have said the law could take away from the African-American vote. Agyemang said it would do the opposite. He said their needs align with other Black Americans, which will amplify Black voices in the city.
“We need housing. We need jobs. We need access to resources. We need to not be villainized and criminalized and all of these things, and the opportunity to just have a great life,” Agyemang said. “There’s not really too much deviation.”
Fifteen of New York City’s 51 council members are Black. At least five of the Black council members are immigrants or come from immigrant families.
Council members who oppose the measure are concerned that the 30-day residency requirement was too short. Critics of the bill also argue it will discourage immigrants from seeking citizenship.
State Republican leaders and five Republican council members have filed a lawsuit challenging the measure. Democrat Council Member Robert Holden and four voters who are naturalized citizens have also joined the case. They allege the law violates the state constitution and election law.
The state constitution says “every citizen shall be entitled to vote at every election,” and the state election law says “no person shall be qualified to register for and vote at any election unless he is a citizen of the United States.”
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