New Haven's Mayor John DeStefano has rolled out the welcome mat for immigrants who are in this country illegally. His government has issued the Elm City resident card to help any inhabitant, whether U.S. citizen or not, open bank accounts. He's instructed the police not to ask people their immigration status so they'll cooperate in solving local crimes.
Now Mayor DeStefano wants to let non-citizens vote in his city's elections. He'll seek permission from the state legislature. Cynics say the mayor is trying to seek more votes for himself, which he denies.
His efforts to engage everyone in civic life are admirable. But that can be done without extending the central privilege of citizenship to those who haven't earned it. Mr. DeStefano's proposal goes too far.
The mayor and his supporters point to Takoma Park, a suburb of Washington and the largest of a few small Maryland communities that extend voting rights to all residents regardless of citizenship. Takoma Park has a population of 16,800, of which 3,000 are non-citizens. For 20 years, they've had this rare privilege, yet only 436 are registered voters. "If even 10 vote in an election, that's a lot," said Takoma Park City Clerk Jessie Carpenter.
Nearly 15,000 of New Haven's 130,000 residents are non-citizens. Because of Yale University, many have student visas, green cards or other official permission to be in the country. Some do not.
Voting is a duty, and privilege, of citizenship. It's at the core of our rights as Americans. Our democratic government is a strong reason why many immigrants want to become U.S. citizens. Some risk their lives for it, whether in escaping despotic regimes or by serving in the U.S. military.
It's true that too many Americans take this precious right for granted. But that doesn't justify giving it away.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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