It is more than deeply ironic, it is deeply hypocritical, that a country forged in a revolution whose call to arms was ‘No taxation without representation’ now demands taxes from nearly 15 million Lawful Permanent Residents (LPRs) yet bans them from voting.
Affectionately known as ‘Green Card Holders’ (it’s better than resident aliens), we live and work across the United States, and about a million more of us are welcomed every year. Yet, except for a few municipalities where Green Card holders can vote in local elections, Federal and State governments deny us the right to vote in even a School Board election.
It was not always so. Indeed, a country built largely on immigration (aren’t they all?), promoted universal suffrage for all residents up until World War 1.
At various stages in the history of the Republic, 40 States have given voting rights to non-citizens. All that changed as immigration swelled between 1820 and the early 1900s. Many of these immigrants were not WASPs. They were poorer, less white and held different religious beliefs. With the outbreak of The Great War, xenophobia raised its head and by 1920 both Republicans and Democrats pushed for States to limit voting rights to citizens. Well, as long they were white, but that’s another story! At least women were given suffrage in 1919.
World War II only served to deepen xenophobic sentiments among the political elite, and the internment of 117,000 Japanese Americans sealed the exclusion of legal immigrants from the right to vote.
It wasn’t until the latter part of the last century that efforts began to reverse that injustice and re-enfranchise permanent residents. In the early 1990s, a lawyer and academic led a successful ballot to allow LPRs to vote in municipal elections in Maryland. He became Congressman Jamie Raskin, and wrote perhaps the definitive legal and scholarly article on the topic in the University of Pennsylvania Law Review (4). Alas, since being elected, his ardour and passion for giving LPRs the vote seems to have cooled. Municipalities in Chicago and San Francisco followed suit to a lesser degree through the latter part of the last century. Other regions including New York, Washington, DC, Connecticut, Maine, and Massachusetts also saw attempts to empower legal residents, but these were blocked predominantly by Republican politicians.
The fact is that for 99.9% LPRs, you may pay your taxes, but you have absolutely no democratic rights. In fact, you are effectively democratically illegitimate.
This denial of voting rights has no basis under The Constitution. Au contraire. The Fourteenth Amendment calls for “equal rights for all”. In 1982 The Supreme Court ruled that right extended to non-citizens and even their undocumented children (Plyler v Doe).
Worse that just paying taxes, Green Card holders of a certain age are required to register so they can be drafted in time of war. But they have no say in a POTUS, a Member of Congress or Senator who votes for war.
This democratic deficit is therefore not just a betrayal of one of the founding principles of these United States, it is also a violation of The Constitution.
The question then is why there is no political appetite to right this wrong? The ranks of the LPRs are growing by about 1 million eligible taxpayers every year (3). Perhaps it would make sense to gain political advantage for local and Statewide politicians to appeal to this rapidly growing segment of the population? Especially in California, where more than 20% of all LPRs live (5). This caucus would equate to more than 10% of eligible voters, substantially more in areas like Los Angeles. Politicians in New York & Texas would also endear themselves to another 4.5 million Green Card holders who live in those States.
“Taxation without representation is Tyranny”. So said James Otis, an activist, lawyer and one of the architects of the Boston Tea Party. As a Brit who pays his taxes, I’m happy to forgive the outrageous waste of perfectly good tea in return for a right to vote!
There are probably another 15 million taxpayers who may not get too excited about the tea, many of them will probably be more interested in tacos & tamales (6); yet I’m sure they would all love the right to vote.