By: Pia Dyquiangco, Esq.
One of the freedoms that the United States gives to its citizens is the right to vote. This year on November 4, 2008, citizens all over our nation will exercise this right and help elect the president of the United States. This year is a historical election as both major parties bring forth candidates out of the stereotypical norm. If the Republicans take the presidency, our nation will have the first female vice president and if the Democrats take the presidency, our nation will have its first African American president. With all of the election hype: media advertisements "get out the vote "rallies, and everyone talking about the elections, one may forget that the right to vote is a privilege given only to U.S. Citizens.
Voting in an election when you do not have the eligibility to vote violates the law. In 1996, Congress enacted the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act, making it a federal crime for non-citizens to vote in any federal election (or state election, unless authorized by state law). As a penalty, ineligible non-citizens who knowingly vote may be deported. Additionally, a non-citizen who falsely claims to be a United States citizen is in violation of this law.
It is important to reiterate that this right is only for those who are U.S. Citizens. Too often people applying for naturalization find themselves in violation of the law when their answer to Part 10, Section A #1 "Have you ever claimed to be a U.S. Citizen? (in writing or any other way) and #2 Have you ever registered to vote in any Federal, state or local elections?" is a resounding "Yes!"
If you ever find yourself in a situation where your answer to these questions is a "Yes," it is important to be honest when you are asked these questions in your interview. However, be honest but be prepared to overcome such a violation. If you find yourself registered to vote, there are ways to try to resolve such a violation: You can try to cancel your voter registration from your county elections' office and bring proof of the cancellation of your registration to show that you did not intend to register to vote or vote at all. Canceling your registration means removing your name from the voter registration. Those that have been able to prove that they have taken the measures to correct this violation have found themselves able to overcome this issue at their naturalization interview.
Registering to vote is easy. You can find yourself being asked to register to vote at your local supermarket or it can be as easy as checking a box on your driver's license application. Voter registration is easy to encourage citizens to vote, but at the same time it makes it easy for non citizens to also register because often times they are not asked to show proof of U.S. citizenship. We can solve this issue by asking those foreign born to show proof of citizenship. But who carries their naturalization certificate or passport with them at all times?
Therefore we should all be accountable for our actions. Do not register to vote if you are not a citizen of the United States. Also, just because you go through the naturalization interview and pass with flying colors does not make you a citizen until you have taken the Oath of Allegiance at a ceremony.
The right to vote is a privilege given to citizens of the United States. If you are not a citizen, this right does not belong to you and you should not exercise it. If you find yourself unknowingly registered to vote, take measures to resolve it. If you have already voted, you have violated the law and it is recommended that you seek a competent immigration attorney to assist you. Remember it is very easy for a non citizen to vote, but lying or making mistakes in applying for U.S. Citizenship can be extremely costly.
The lawyers at Wilner & O'Reilly, APLC provide assistance to all issues surrounding naturalization and citizenship. Should you need our assistance, please don't hesitate to call 800-352-7034. Consultations are free.