South Queens Women’s March calls on Republican lawmakers to affirm voting rights legislation

South Queens Women’s March on Jan. 17 called on Republican lawmakers to uphold a bill that gives certain immigrants in New York City the right to vote in municipal elections. (Photo by Paul Frangipane)

In observance of Martin Luther King Jr. Day honoring the famous American civil rights leader who dedicated his life to achieving equality for all people of color, South Queens Women’s March is calling on Republican lawmakers to uphold a bill that gives certain immigrants in New York City the right to vote in municipal elections. 

“This Martin Luther King Jr. Day, we affirm Int. 1867, a bill that would grant immigrants in New York City the ability to vote in municipal elections. We stand on the shoulders of freedom fighters and activists who sought to uplift social justice and equity for decades, including the late Martin Luther King Jr.,” said Aminta-Kilawan Narine, founder and executive director of SQWM, an organization inspired by global and national women’s rights movements. “Immigrants make up the fabric of our city and indeed are the drivers behind our local communities, contributing to South Queens’ vibrant social, economic, and cultural landscape.”

Narine added, “Immigrants deserve to have a stake in local elections that directly impact their daily lives. At SQWM, we have a dream of collective liberation for all people, especially our Black and Brown fellow neighbors.” 

Intro. 1867 became law on Jan. 8 allowing lawful permanent residents and persons authorized to work in the United States and have been residing in New York City for 30 consecutive days or longer, to vote in municipal elections. 

As of late, the Republican Party, also known as the GOP, have filed a lawsuit in state court to block the law’s implementation, according to the Center for Immigration Studies

The law is currently being challenged by several lawmakers who filed a lawsuit in a Staten Island court last week on the grounds that the law is unconstitutional. The plaintiffs in the lawsuit include Queens lawmakers, such as City Council Members Robert Holden, Joann Ariola and Vickie Paladino. 

The GOP contends that the law “will dilute the votes of citizens” and that it “is intended to, and will, cause an abrupt and sizable change to the makeup of the electorate, which will force the elective-officeholders plaintiffs to change the way that they campaign for office and will materially affect their likelihood of future electoral victory.”

Nirmala Singh, a founding board member of SQWM who recently became a naturalized U.S. citizen, said she was overjoyed at the newly appointed duties of being able to vote not only in federal elections, but elections at all levels. 

“Allowing over 1 million [lawful permanent residents] and those with work authorizations to vote in municipal elections will allow for a more inclusive, equitable city. As a first generation immigrant, I understand firsthand the frustrations despite living and working in NYC and not being able to civically participate in the elections that essentially impacts my everyday life and future,” Singh said. “We owe the passage of #INTRO1867 to all of the immigrant communities, who call this great city home.” 

SQWM is also calling on the federal government to ensure that the voting rights of all are protected from restrictions and barriers by passing the Freedom to Vote Act, a historic legislation that would set national standards to protect Americans’ freedom to vote, counter election sabotage, end partisan redistricting and fix the broken campaign finance system. 

Together with the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, which would restore and update the full protections of the landmark Voting Rights Act of 1965, the Freedom to Vote Act would be the most comprehensive democracy reform law enacted in decades, according to the Brennan Center for Justice.  

Candace Prince-Modeste of SQWM said more participation in the electoral process is always a good thing for society. 

“Opening municipal elections to non-citizens is an excellent way to introduce them to the voting process. By seeing firsthand how their participation helps shape their communities,  many green card holders will likely be empowered to continue on the path towards citizenship. This bill must be upheld,” Prince-Modeste said. 

Christina Motilall, who is also a SQWM member, said it’s unfortunate and disheartening to see loved ones that have lived and worked in the U.S. and are invested in the political campaigns of the federal, state and city levels unable to take part due to their legal status. 

“Living and working as permanent residents for decades and wanting the opportunity to have a voice in matters that affect their daily lives. An opportunity to utilize their choices that many take for granted,” Motilall said. “This bill gave them that right to utilize those voices that have yearned to be heard for years.”