A 2016 ballot measure will allow non-citizens to vote in local school board elections starting in November, but city officials are warning immigrants that if they register, their information will be available to federal authorities. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)

Non-citizens voting in SF school board elections to get immigration warning

San Francisco’s implementation of non-citizen voting in school board elections this November will come with a warning — federal immigration enforcement officials could obtain the voter registration information.

Voters approved a ballot measure in 2016 to allow non-citizens to vote in school board elections beginning in November, but there are concerns over how the federal government could use the information as President Donald Trump has targeted California and San Francisco over sanctuary policies.

San Francisco plans to issue a warning in 51 languages to non-citizens before they register, including on a Department of Elections affidavit they would need to sign to register and on the Department of Elections website.

“IMPORTANT NOTICE FOR NON-UNITED STATES CITIZENS,” the warning begins. “ Any information you provide to the Department of Elections, including your name and address, may be obtained by Immigration and Customs Enforcement [ICE] and other agencies, organizations, and individuals.” The warning also notes that “if you apply for naturalization, you will be asked whether you have ever registered or voted in a federal, state, or local election in the United States.”

The warning requirement is part of legislation introduced by Supervisor Norman Yee that directs the Department of Elections on how to implement non-citizen voting. The Board of Supervisors Rules Committee approved Yee’s legislation Wednesday and the full board is expected to vote on it Tuesday.

The legislation also requires the department to provide a list of legal resources for immigration rights attorneys.

“Given the current political climate the need for immigrants to know their rights as well as their risk is paramount,” Yee said. He added that The City had contemplated postponing non-citizen voting “to protect community members given the high risk of deportation,” but those who pushed for the measure sought to move ahead anyway.

Hong Mei Pang, Chinese for Affirmative Action’s director of advocacy, said that in 2016 “something amazing happened” when non-citizen parents of schoolchildren were “enfranchised” by the measure’s passage but, at same time, “there was also a terrible turn on the federal [level] where the political climate shifted to create a lot of fear and panic in the community.”

She said the measure’s backers want to confront the fear. “Despite the threats … community members are exercising power, not panic and we are invested in a successful implementation through a multi-prong approach.”

The legislation, she said, will “help immigrant families weigh their options by providing them with notice of the risks associated with becoming discoverable to the federal government.”

John Arntz, Department of Elections director, said he plans to begin non-citizen voter registration on July 16.
In November 2016, 54 percent of the voters approved the Proposition N charter amendment, Non-Citizen Voting in School Board Election, to allow non-citizen residents to vote for members of the Board of Education if they are a parent, legal guardian or legally recognized caregiver of a child under the age of 19 living in the School District and if they are of legal voting age and not in prison or on parole for a felony conviction.

The measure was placed on the ballot by the Board of Supervisors in a 10-1 vote. Mayor Mark Farrell, then a member of the board, opposed placing it on the ballot.

One of out three children in San Francisco’s public schools are estimated to have an immigrant parent and supporters of the measure have estimated tens of thousands of residents will now be eligible to vote in the school board elections. The benefit, they argued, is increased parent participation in schools, which would help their children earn better grades and graduate.

Yee said that there is a tendency for elected officials to ignore those who “don’t have a chance to vote for you.”

“This is a way to say, ‘Pay attention to all the students.’”


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