Advocates Applaud San Francisco's Limited Voting Rights for Non-Citizens as City Addresses Fears of Federal Response

San Francisco officials began registering non-U.S. citizens to vote in school board elections this week, reasoning that parents whose children are educated there should have a say in how the schools are run—but fears about the federal government’s potential response to the new limited voting rights of non-citizens has led the city to enact a contingency plan.

“There’s a lot of concern regarding the federal government obtaining the personal information of voters who would register as non-citizens,” San Francisco Department of Elections Director John Arntz told KQED.

The city is responding to fears of the Trump administration targeting those with new limited voting rights by allocating $150,000 to the Office of Civic Engagement and Immigration Affairs for community outreach initiatives. The office will work with local immigration support groups to provide information and counseling to non-citizens who fear their participation in school board elections could be used against them.

San Francisco voters approved a ballot measure in November 2016, extending school board voting rights to all parents and guardians of children in city schools, provided they are not in prison or on parole for a felony conviction. The city’s Board of Supervisors adopted the new law earlier this year.

One in three students in the city’s schools come from immigrant families, according to KQED.

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“This is no-brainer legislation,” Hillary Ronen, a San Francisco supervisor, told the San Francisco Chronicle. “Why would we not want our parents invested in the education of their children?”

The law makes San Francisco the first city in California to extend voting rights to non-citizens. Boston’s City Council is currently considering its own initiative to allow immigrants with visas, permanent residents, and those living under the Temporary Protected Status (TPS) or the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) programs to vote in local elections.

The Trump administration earlier this year added a question about citizenship to the U.S. Census, raising concerns among immigrant rights advocates that the federal government will use the information to target non-citizens.

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While some in San Francisco may opt out of registering to vote for school officials, non-citizens and voting rights advocates celebrated the city’s decision to make local elections more inclusive.

“At the end of the day, the choice is yours to assess that risk and to decide whether or not this is the right time for you to register to vote,” San Francisco resident Ruiyi Lee told KQED. “The important thing is that right now, we actually have a choice to make, the right to choose.”

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