Non-Citizens Political Representation

Redistricting is based on the premise that there is equal representation for equal numbers of people. The redistricting process is not intended solely to protect the voting power of citizens. Non-citizens, as well as citizens, should count for purposes of apportionment.

Do non-citizens get political representation too?

Yes, non-citizens get political representation even if they are not eligible to vote. Non-citizens are “persons” under the Constitution and are entitled to protection under our laws. Despite this constitutional promise, immigrants have been the target of increasing anti-immigrant rhetoric and laws in our nation. When Congress failed to pass comprehensive immigration reform in 2006, some states and local governments passed laws targeting immigrants. Some of those laws required proof of legal status to rent housing or prohibited laborers from gathering on streets to solicit work. Members of Congress also attempted to pass legislation that would exclude non-citizens from being counted in the re-apportionment process.

How many non-citizens live in America currently?

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) provides the most current statistics on the number of immigrants living in the United States. According to the DHS, as of January 1, 2008, the number of non-citizens equaled approximately 31.3 million (19.7 million legal residents and approximately 11.6 million unauthorized immigrants). Most legal permanent residents are eligible for naturalization after a minimum of five years of residence or three years if they are married to a U.S. citizen. Immigrants who are allowed to live in the United States but are not given permanent residence include individuals authorized to work or temporary visitors. All people working in the United States, regardless of immigration status, are obligated to pay taxes.

Do states have to use total population data to draw districts? Can states just use data on citizens since they are the ones eligible to vote?

As a preliminary matter, if a state decides to exclude non-citizens from the redistricting base while including other non-voters, such actions could be deemed discriminatory or unconstitutional. It also amounts to “taxation without representation.”

Depending on the region of the U.S., states have the option to use either the total population or the citizen population in apportioning districts. In certain jurisdictions, including those within the Ninth Circuit, all persons must be counted for determining the size of political districts. However, not all jurisdictions have adopted this standard. Those jurisdictions within the Fifth Circuit have the option of counting all persons or those who are eligible to vote.

Why should non-citizens be considered in redistricting?

Non-citizens are “persons” under the Constitution and are entitled to protection under our laws.

Non-citizens have many opportunities for civic participation, even though they cannot vote in most jurisdictions. They can participate in public hearings and government meetings and meet with their elected representatives. A number of jurisdictions around the country allow non-citizens to vote in local elections. Non-citizens are allowed to vote for local school boards in Chicago and they have been allowed to vote in Takoma Park, Maryland in local elections since 1992. Other small communities in Maryland allow non-citizen voting as well. In City Heights, California all residents are allowed to vote for members of the Planning Committee. In New York, non-citizens were allowed to vote in community school board elections for more than three decades before Mayor Bloomberg dismantled the school board in 2003. In 2010, non-citizen parents were allowed to vote in an election to determine what organizations would run low-performing schools in the Los Angeles Unified School District. Moreover, elected officials have a duty to represent everyone in their district, not just the people who voted for them, not just the people who are old enough to vote, and not just the people who are citizens.