09.29.08

Voting: A Right of Citizens

Posted in Uncategorized at 4:38 am by Lalita Haran

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 lots of votes would be cast. But elections also worry me as to how many are casting votes not knowing whether they should or should not.

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

Immigration and Nationality Law treats a foreign national, voting in violation of any Federal, State or local constitutional provision, statute, ordinance or regulation as “inadmissible” and /or “deportable.” Please note the underlined word “any,” which means the phrase “Federal, State or local constitutional provision, statute, ordinance or regulation” encompasses all of the fore mentioned terms having the force of law in the United States. 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, becomes deportable.

In addition, registering to vote but not actually 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 such vote) is restricted to citizens alone; both affecting the ability to naturalize.

The law, as you read above, 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 serves with punishment of inadmissibility or deportation or both, for any mistake. There exists a narrow exception for those, who, in addition to having each natural or adoptive parent as U.S. citizens, satisfy certain other conditions. Those are the events less likely to occur than winning a lottery. As you guessed it, complexity controls.

Many foreign nationals may encounter situations where they are invited, as general public, to register to vote in a federal or State or local election. You may have to fill a form and make a statement on oath and as I notice, often foreign nationals are not sure if they are eligible to register or not. Some hesitatingly approach the registration desk and express doubts about their eligibility. It would be great if the eligibility criteria are displayed at the relevant places and even better if the person at the voting or registration desk is knowledgeable enough to advise whether or not one could vote or register. Ask if such an advice is readily available and if not where to get. Even then, it is your responsibility to follow the rules. Reliance on others’ statements 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 which 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 its own countrymen and women. Others may have voted in the local elections ignorant that citizenship was an eligibility requirement. I would not call it a totally 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. These actions 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, check to see what the eligibility criteria are and make a wise choice. Know when your statements could be counted false and above all take the time to educate your children and encourage them to ask themselves before voting in this election: “Are you a citizen yet?.”

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