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Federal Judge: Anti-Immigrant Bias Harms US Citizens' Voting Rights. By Roger Algase

Rating: 4 votes, 5.00 average.

In a stinging rebuke to state officials seeking to enforce a Texas voter ID law, which she determined to be one of the most restrictive in the nation, with clearly disproportionate impact on Latino and other minority American citizen voters, Federal District Court Judge Nelva Gonzales Ramos issued a permanent injunction on October 9 against enforcing that law. She condemned the law as being specifically designed to keep minority US citizens from voting, in keeping with what she determined, after a full hearing with expert witnesses whose testimony was mainly uncontested by state officials, to be that state's long history of racial discrimination and its present intention to keep black and Hispanic voters away from the polls.

See Huffington Post: Federal Court Overturns Texas Voter ID Law, Calling It A 'Poll Tax' (October 9).

This decision, Veasy v. Perry, 13-CV-00193 (S.D. Texas) which the state's Attorney General intends to appeal, is of crucial importance to immigration advocates for two reasons. The first is the symbiotic connection between minority US citizen voting rights and immigration reform, which has been obvious ever since the 2012 election, if not long before.

T
he second reason, which Judge Gonzales Ramos pointed out in some detail in her 147-page decision, is that anti-immigrant prejudice can be used as a tool in order to prevent minority US citizens from exercising their statutory and Constitutional right to vote. This provides an example of how attempts to strip immigrants of their fundamental legal and human rights can result in depriving American citizens of their rights as well.

Judge Gonzales Ramos began with a description of that state's racially polarized voting patterns:

" Dr. Barry C. Burden, a political science professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, testified regarding racially polarized voting in Texas. Dr. Burden explained that the gap between Anglo and Latino Republican support is generally 30-40 percentage points. The rate of racially polarized voting between Anglo and African-American voters is even larger. These racial differences are were much greater than among other socio-demographic groups...Many courts, including the United States Supreme Court, have confirmed that Texas suffers from racially polarized voting...Defendants offered no evidence to the contrary on this issue."

She continued:

"Texas' long history of racial discrimination may explain why African-Americans as well as Hispanics remain underrepresented within the ranks of publicly elected officials relative to their citizen population rate."

The Judge then turned to the connection between racial polarization in voting and underrepresentation of Latinos and African-Americans among elected officials and the exploitation of anti-immigrant prejudice:

"Another aspect of Texas' electoral history is the use of subtle and sometimes overt racial appeals in political campaigns. As Dr. Burton explained in his report, '[t]hrough the twentieth century, racial appeals - once more explicit - have become increasingly subtle.' He noted that words like 'welfare queen', 'lazy' and 'immigration' have been used to activate racial thinking in the minds of voters.

Issues of campaigns relying on racial messages persist in Texas. For example, in a 2008 Texas House of Representatives race, an Anglo candidate sent a mailer featuring a manipulated picture of his Anglo opponent. The opponent's skin was darkened, a Mexican flag button was superimposed in his shirt, and an oversized Chinese flag was positioned directly behind him - all while questioning his commitment against illegal immigration."

Judge Gonzales Ramos then demolished one of the main arguments which had been put forth as a rationale for enacting the voter ID law, namely that it would stop illegal immigrants from voting:

"Over time, proponents of the photo ID bill began to conflate voter fraud with concern over illegal immigration...There was a lot of anti-Hispanic sentiment...

But Representative Hernandez-Luiz testified convincingly that illegal immigrants are not likely to try to vote. 'They are living in the shadows. They don't want any contact with the government for fear of being deported - I mean, my family was afraid to even go grocery shopping much less attempt to illegally vote.'

Representative Todd Smith admitted that he had no facts to support his concerns about non-citizen voting, but was reacting to allegations. Furthermore, non-citizens (legal permanent residents and visa holders) can legally obtain a valid Texas drivers license and a concealed handgun license, making the use of those ID's to prevent non-citizen voting rather illusory."

She continued, somewhat ironically, with the only example of non-citizen voting revealed at the trial in this case:

"In that case, a Norwegian citizen, who had truthfully filled out his form to reflect that he was not a citizen, was mailed a voter registration card anyway, So he thought he had the right to vote."

The Judge concluded:

"Representatives Anchia, Hernandez-Luiz and Martinez-Fischer and Senator Uresti indicated that the repeated references to illegal-aliens and non-citizens voting generated anti-Hispanic feelings. Representative Hernandez-Luna even testified that lawmakers were equating Hispanic immigration with risks of leprosy in a very tense atmosphere. Senator Davis added that there was unfounded concern about non-citizen students."
(Emphasis added.)

Based on the above evidence, which the decision does not mention any attempt by the proponents of the Texas voter ID law to refute, there can be little doubt that anti-immigrant prejudice is being used as a method to deprive minority US citizens of their most basic and fundamental legal right - the right to vote.

As an aside, in view of current concerns, the word "leprosy" in the above quote (which has been used as an expression of anti-immigrant bigotry ever since the 19th century), is well on its way to being replaced by "ebola", despite the fact that as of this writing, there has fortunately not been a single reported case of this terrible disease anywhere in Latin America, or for that matter, in the entire Western Hemisphere outside of the United States itself. This is not to downplay the urgency of adopting reasonable measures to prevent the further spread of ebola to the US.

The most important of these, as all medical authorities appear to agree, is taking more effective action to contain this disease at its source in the three West African countries most affected. This would be far more productive in protecting America from this disease than playing the traditional game of scapegoating immigrants whenever there is an outbreak of illness or threat of an epidemic. No one can guarantee that even the most draconian immigration restrictions would stop ebola from coming to or spreading in the US.
_____________________________
Roger Algase is a New York lawyer and a graduate of Harvard College and Harvard Law School. He has been practicing business and family immigration law for more than 30 years.

His practice is concentrated in H-1B and O-1 work visas, and green cards through labor certification (PERM), extraordinary ability (EB-1) and opposite sex or same sex marriage, among other immigration and citizenship cases. His email address is algaselex@gmail.com


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Updated 10-10-2014 at 07:19 PM by ImmigrationLawBlogs

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