How do desis feel about NYC giving voting rights to legal residents?

Many Indian legal residents feel included at last; others stuck in green card backlog say it does not help them much

Recently, New York City approved a law that allows all the legal permanent residents and those who are authorized to work in the US, a right to vote in local elections.

This means that about 800,000 legal residents of the city on green card, a vast number of whom are Indians would be having a say in the local election of the candidates. They make up only a fraction of the three million immigrants living in the city.

While the move comes at the right time as many attorneys maintain that residents who have been part of the city, have been paying taxes, must be included in the city’s voting process.

Read: USCIS approved 50% more green cards in FY 2021 (December 17, 2021)

So what would the new law mean for the ever growing Indian community in NYC and in the US, who have been complaining about not getting fair treatment in the immigration process despite contributing to the American economy and society?

Council member Ydanis Rodriguez, the bill’s prime sponsor, said, “We are giving dignity and respect to close to one million New Yorkers who made important contributions. Their contribution should be valued and measured the same as any other New Yorkers’.”

The American Bazaar asked a few desis living and working in NYC about what the new law means to them. Some felt happy at finally feeling included, while others lamented that it does not do much to lift them from the immigration backlogs they find themselves in.

Fayaaz Hussain Ghouse, an Indian living and working in the US says, “I can’t speak for the community but for myself. As far as the feelings go, I feel happy, represented and validated.”

On whether the measure helps long term legal residents he says, “My opinion is that if a person has stayed in a region for an extended period of time, the person should be considered fit to vote because the extended stay would make the person cognizant of the effect policies have on them.”

Another NYC resident Arti Kumar says, “I welcome the decision. For many of us who have been living in the city for decades, the idea of not being able to vote made us feel alien. The policies and the candidates’ behavior affects us as much as it affects a born and raised New Yorker.”

But some Indians stuck in the green card backlog see the measure as something that suits only the local authorities. In no way, it helps them to address their problems such as endless green card wait and the possibility of many of the kids on dependent visas aging out, they say.

There have been voices within the city from born and raised new Yorkers who have been against the idea of allowing non-citizens a right to vote. However, many Indians counter it logically.

As Fayaaz Ghouse says, “One could argue that there is a possibility that a non-citizen will not be vested enough to make an informed decision – some people might truly be here just to make a decent living and eventually go back.”

Read: A record 150,000 excess green cards to be available in 2022 (December 6, 2021)

“So they are not vested enough or worse, they could be skewed towards politicians who could advance their interests (interests could vary like drafting policies that advance the non-citizen’s interest of making more money) at the cost of citizens,” he says.

“But I would argue that such kind of people are found among long standing citizens of that country as well and so that should not be a reason to exclude non-citizens, especially when they are here legally.”

In Ghouse’s opinion, “if a person is here legally, then the country must have had vested interest to have them here legally and that means any future policies should take these non-citizens into account which means these non-citizens should have the right to vote and there should not be any selective behavior.”

A political studies student at New York, Anadita Shah says, “People who may be having some problems probably are thinking that it’s a favor to legal residents. However it is actually a move that’s rational and required.”

“Politicians are probably thinking that they did these legal non-citizens a favor by allowing them inside their country in the first place and so they should be content with that provided opportunity,” says Ghouse.

“I would argue that there was mutual benefit in allowing these legal non-citizens into their country and it can’t be one-sided,” he says. “If a person is living in a country legally for an extended period of time, then political decisions affect them and so they should have a right to vote.”

About the backlog, Ghouse says, ”Backlog is one prime example of why we need to be included in the pool of voters.”

“Backlog affects a lot of families both directly and indirectly and it shapes a person and families thought processes radically and this in turn will spill into society which would affect the citizens of the country.”

“This should be an incentive to give voting rights to legal non-citizens,” he says. “Imagine a whole bunch of disgruntled non-citizens going around criticizing the backlog and, by extension, the immigration policies of the government to citizens.”

Read: NYC Council passes bill giving voting rights to non-citizens (December 10, 2021)

“This will have an impact on citizens’ outlook towards the government. Immigration is just one example and this can be extrapolated to other policies as well – environment, energy etc,” Ghouse says.

“These opinions have shaped my feelings of being able to feel represented and validated.” He adds, “I am strictly talking about legal non-citizens. Illegal non-citizens is a whole different debate.”

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