San Francisco allows non-citizens to vote for their children’s education. keep it up

As the parent of a 14-year-old student in the San Francisco Unified School District, I pay close attention to the decisions and actions taken by the city’s school board. Like any caring parent, I want the best for my child. And in the last school board elections, including the recent recall, I exercised my right to vote to protect his education.

But on Thursday, the San Francisco Superior Court could take that away from me and every other non-citizen parent in the city.

Since passing Proposition N in 2016, San Francisco has allowed noncitizen immigrant parents with a school district-eligible child to vote in school board elections. Eligibility to vote extends to permanent residents, immigrants on temporary visas — such as students or tech industry workers — as well as undocumented immigrants. This week, however, the court hears Lacy v. San Francisco, a challenge to City Ordinance 128-18, which gives non-citizen immigrant parents that right to vote.

It is essential that the order continues to apply.

Immigrant families face unique challenges within the school system, including gaps in school-family communication, language accessibility, and access to technology. A 2017 report by the Annie E. Casey Foundation found that children of immigrants are more likely to struggle in school and more likely to live in poverty. The report also found that while children of immigrants make up less than a quarter of the country’s child population, they make up almost a third of those from low-income families.

The COVID-19 pandemic has only exacerbated many of the challenges these families face, with many students from immigrant families disproportionately experiencing economic uncertainty, food insecurity and learning loss. Although the direct impact of COVID-19 on the health of non-citizens is not well understood, a May 2022 study found that communities with larger proportions of non-citizens had higher death rates from COVID- 19 higher.

No one understands how these challenges affect the education of our children better than we do – which makes us, non-citizen parents, the best people to have a say in how the San Francisco School District can meet the needs of our children. But without the right to vote, how can we ensure that those responsible for our children’s education really listen to us?

Voting is what allows me to make public comments at school board meetings and know that my comments will be taken seriously.

Those who oppose the right to vote for non-citizen parents in school board elections would have you believe that the right to vote is inextricably linked to citizenship. But non-citizen voting is not a new concept in this country and is in fact rooted in American history and tradition. Before the rise of anti-immigrant movements in the early 1900s, noncitizens voted in local, state, and even federal elections in as many as 40 states and federal territories. Restricting the vote of non-citizens was just one of many discriminatory strategies used at the time to disenfranchise voters, including poll taxes, literacy tests, and registration requirements.

Why can’t parents like me just wait until we become naturalized citizens? Because naturalization is not always an option. Many immigrant parents will not be able to become US citizens until their child graduates from high school, while others have no path to citizenship. A broken immigration system should not prevent community members from having a say in the policies and leaders that impact their children’s educational experiences.

The immigrant vote is based on a founding principle of our country: no taxation without representation, that is to say no decision on us, without us. Non-citizen immigrants are long-time residents of our communities, pay taxes and support our local economies, often without ever being included in decision-making processes. Expanding access to voting strengthens our democracy and inspires community members to participate in and shape our society. Our city needs more community engagement, not less.

Knowing that I have the right to vote encourages me to learn more about the educational policies governing the school district, the positions and beliefs of school board members, and each candidate’s plans to address school issues. accessibility, educational equity and mental well-being. The suppression of this right can only lead to the deprivation of rights.

The San Francisco Board of Education is responsible for policies that impact the needs and well-being of all students in the district, not just those whose parents are U.S. citizens. For the 54% of city kids with at least one immigrant parent, the non-citizen vote was a crucial way to make their concerns visible and hold school board members accountable.

I believe in the value of civic participation and have always talked to my daughter about the importance of voting. As a parent, I want to teach him by example that voting is both a right and a responsibility of every member of society.

Like the right to vote for people of color, women, and young adults, the vote for noncitizens in San Francisco was a right earned through decades of grassroots organizing and advocacy. Now more than ever, maintaining the right to vote for immigrant parents is just one step toward creating a more equitable, transparent, and representative school district that supports all students, not some.

Amos Lim is a non-citizen parent and the economic justice program manager at Chinese Affirmative for Action.

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