The lines between American citizens and immigrants who live here, legally or not, have just gotten more blurred.
As a result, it’s logical to wonder if much incentive remains for non-citizens to go to the trouble and expense of upgrading their status.
For those who want all immigrants to enjoy all the rights of citizens, the early part of this year has been a banner time.
During the year’s first week, just after Eric Adams swore his oath and became New York’s new mayor, he endorsed a local measure letting non-citizens vote in all New York City elections.
Adams opposed this change during his election campaign, and did not sign it into law, but rather let it automatically take effect when he declined to veto it.
Just a few days later, California Gov. Gavin Newsom took a big move toward installing government-paid health care as an entitlement for everyone living in California, no matter their immigration or economic status.
He did this by including more than $2 billion in his proposed new state budget to expand the state’s Medi-Cal health insurance system for the poor to cover undocumented immigrants between ages 26 and 50.
Medi-Cal previously covered all other low-income persons living in this state. Newsom’s move would help about 700,000 of the current uninsured.
Medi-Cal covers about one-third of all Californians, the rest required to purchase other types of health insurance or risk not getting needed treatments.
Newsom sees his latest proposal as a step on the path toward single-payer health insurance, where everyone in California would be covered by a state plan roughly equivalent to federal Medicare insurance.
It’s all part of a trend that started about 20 years ago, when Chicago and a few cities in Maryland began letting non-citizens vote.
The rationale all along has been that non-citizens, regardless of their legal immigration status, are part of the fabric of the communities where they live.
As Adams put in on his inauguration day, “I believe that all New Yorkers should have a say in their government. … I look forward to bringing millions more into the democratic process.”
California has been dipping toes into this movement for the last 10 years.
In almost every session of the Legislature during that time, Democratic lawmakers have advanced bills allowing non-citizens to vote in all local elections.
Those proposals have not passed. But school boards in both San Francisco and Los Angeles took up the idea, and it actually passed as the local San Francisco ballot Proposition N in 2016.
The measure allows non-citizen parents of students in the local school district to vote in school board elections, but no others.
So far, no non-citizens have been permitted to vote in presidential or other federal and statewide elections since 1926, when Arkansas became the last state to ban the practice during a wave of anti-immigrant sentiment.
For non-citizens to begin voting in Los Angeles — where the school board proposed the idea three years ago — or any other California city, a local ballot measure must pass. So far, none has appeared outside San Francisco, in part because of preoccupation with the coronavirus and efforts to keep schools open even as it rages.
One positive motive behind the moves in California seems simple: Backers believe that involving more parents in decisions about their kids’ schools might improve student performances.
For sure, improvement is needed, especially after standardized test scores tanked during the 2020-21 academic year dominated by distance learning via Zoom and other remote learning programs.
But officials and voters ought to think hard about all this.
For widespread non-citizen voting would remove one more distinction between citizens and non-citizens, eliminating yet another motive for achieving citizenship, just seven years after illegal immigrants became eligible for California driver licenses.
And anything that removes incentive to seek citizenship ultimately hinders both assimilating immigrants and helping them advance, because citizenship remains necessary for holding many jobs and to move forward in American society.
Email Thomas Elias at [email protected].