When we talk about voting rights in advocacy, we usually talk about people who’ve had their rights taken away because of felony convictions, but there’s a huge community of people we forget who don’t have voting rights––Virginia undocumented immigrants.
Despite being written into the U.S. Constitution, history shows us the receipts that the right to vote has not always been treated that way. Initially, only wealthy white men could vote, and the rest of us were left behind. Decades and decades passed and we still have failed to grant voting rights to our undocumented immigrants.
It all depends on a person’s immigration status. Immigrants who are granted citizenship have the same voting privileges as a natural-born citizen. But then there are permanent legal residents of the U.S––people with green cards––and undocumented immigrants who don’t have the right to vote.
Research shows that if non-citizens were a voting block, they’d likely engage in elections due to their political activities and investment in their communities. There’s an estimated 13 million lawful permanent residents living in the U.S. right now, plus an additional 11 million undocumented immigrants. Twenty-four million people live in this country who don’t have the right to vote and that number is so huge that we can’t ignore it.
Twelve percent of Virginia’s population is composed of immigrants and half of them are naturalized citizens. That means we have about 500,000 immigrants in Virginia who don’t have voting rights. That’s a lot of people that could be participating in our democracy that should be included.
I work alongside many activists from the immigrant community and what I’ve seen is that many of them and the community they represent want to be active participants in our democracy. People immigrate to this country because they are looking for better lives and opportunities for themselves and their families. Many are fleeing violence and hardship to come and live here to experience the freedom that Americans enjoy.
We Need to Fix Our Immigration System So Immigrants Can Vote
Providing a path to citizenship would help the millions of people living in this country gain their voting rights. To get there we need to fix our broken immigration system. Our immigration system is deeply flawed and it’s so hard for people to become citizens, even if they come here legally. Many people enter here illegally because it’s nearly impossible to get a visa to enter the U.S. to live and work.
Creating an immigration system that works is a highly contentious issue that most political leaders don’t want to touch. President Barack Obama tried to reform our immigration system and encountered so much obstruction that he created through an executive action the Deferred Action on Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program that protects young people who were brought here as young children from deportation through executive order.
Our Immigrant Communities Contribute Monetarily to Virginia
Virginia’s workforce population is aging and we need more workers here. They work hard and contribute to their communities. According to the Commonwealth Institute for Fiscal Analysis (TCI), immigrants are employed at a higher rate than U.S. born citizens––72% compared to 65%. That means they are paying more taxes. Undocumented immigrants pay taxes as well, between $200 and $300 million annually.
A lot of people mistakenly believe that immigrants, especially undocumented people don’t pay taxes, but they do. About 75 percent of non-citizens in the US get Individual Taxpayer Identification Numbers from the IRS and they pay sales and excise taxes, property taxes, and property taxes. Immigrants, including undocumented immigrants, are paying into a system that they don’t benefit much from because they don’t have a voice in the voting process.
Vote For Candidates Who Support Virginia Immigrants
People who have made Virginia their home should not have to live in fear and should have a path to citizenship so that they can vote. While we wait for and push for elected officials in D.C. to take action, there’s more we can do at the state level to protect and stand with our immigrant communities. We stand with allies who are fighting to ensure immigrants have access to drivers licenses so they can safely get to work, school, and worship; expand access to in-state tuition to undocumented people, and advocate against using local law enforcement resources to enforce Trump’s attacks on immigrants here in Virginia.
You can join us, too, by using our Progressive Voters Guide to research which candidates in your area stand with us on immigrants’ rights and making sure your vote on November 5th.
Here are some other blogs that deal immigrant rights in Virginia: