Cambridge is a diverse place. It’s home to a plethora of students of all backgrounds, suburban families, young startup techies, and immigrants who’ve come to America to find a better life. Cambridge is a community that values our multifarious population, however, this is not necessarily reflected in our governmental processes.
If a Cambridge resident has called the city their home for three years, and has children in the school system, it stands to reason he or she has a stake in the community. But when residents who are legally in the country cannot contribute meaningfully to their home city, both the immigrant, as well as their municipality are adversely affected.
The movement to grant non-citizens (within reasonable limits) the right to vote and engage politically on municipal issues has been gaining traction over the last few years. Newton, Brookline, and our own Cambridge have all been pushing for this, and we’re getting closer. One city that has successfully implemented this is Takoma Park, Maryland. In the studies leading up to the law’s passage, it became increasingly clear that the demographics of eligible voters was extremely different from the population of Takoma Park as a whole, resultingly, disenfranchising families and individuals who were proud of their community, and wanted to become civically engaged. Additionally, when Chicago allowed Green Card holders to engage in school board activities, there was a marked increase in participation amongst previously marginalized communities.
It’s imperative to note an important distinction in this movement. While civic engagement is a pathway to naturalization, the nature of federalism encourages a distinction between the electoral processes of different levels of government. As former Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice, Byron Paine, noted, “Under our complex system of government, there may be a citizen of a state who is not a citizen of the United States in the full sense of the term. The result would seem to follow unavoidably from the nature of the two systems of government” (re: Wehlitz). In Cambridge, we owe it to our diverse population to recognize that their contribution to Cambridge entitles them to all the benefits of civic engagement. To find out more on this matter, check out our policy order on non-citizen voting here.