Only United States Citizens are permitted to vote. Under the current immigration laws, non-U.S. citizens (lawful permanent residents/green card holders, undocumented immigrants, asylees, and refugees) are not eligible to vote in any federal, state, or local elections. In fact, it is actually a federal crime to do so and there are extraordinarily harsh consequences for unauthorized voting. According to the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act (IIRIRA): “any alien who has voted in violation of any Federal, State, or local constitutional provision, statute, ordinance, or regulation is deportable.” The Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) confirmed this in a precedent decision finding that a noncitizen is removable under INA § 237(a)(6)(A), regardless of whether the alien knew that he or she was unlawfully voting in violation of 18 USC § 611(a). Matter of Fitzpatrick, 26 I&N Dec. 559 (BIA 2015). Sadly, there are very few options of relief for people in this situation, even if the intending immigrant has decades of legal presence in the United States, no criminal record, and extensive family ties.
Given the seriousness of unlawful voting and its potential result in deportation, any non-U.S. citizen should thoroughly review and discuss their history and background with an immigration attorney, especially before any type of immigration application is submitted to USCIS. Sometimes intending immigrants choose to complete their immigration applications on their own in order to save money. Regrettably, this can result in errors that may place immigrants at risk, with potentially harsh penalties. In addition, there are occasions where green card holders are in situations where they are asked or encouraged to register to vote by election officials or governmental entities who are unaware of immigration laws. Inappropriate voter registration may occur in multiple settings, including at the DMV during the issuance of a driver’s license. Oft-times, the non-U.S. citizen may be “accidentally” lured into registering to vote, or voting, because of “Motor-Voter, the federal law that directs some states to incorporate a voter registration option when accepting applications for driver’s licenses and State Identifications. Invariably, the accidental voter or registrant is led into the voter registration process by the blind robotics of the motor voter protocol.
Critically, part of the process of registering to vote is signing a form that confirms the fact that the registrant is, in fact, a U.S. Citizen. Despite potential misinformation, ignorance is not considered an excuse and even if the individual is led to believe that they are eligible to register, it is up to the immigrant to be educated about the fact that they are disallowed the voting and registering privilege until they become a United States Citizen. Claiming to be a U.S. Citizen will make a person fall into a category of “ground of inadmissibility” that is unwaivable.
At the Shulman Law Group, LLC, we have seen multiple variations on the theme of the “accidental voter or voter registrant and have successfully steered these clients in the right direction towards a positive outcome. While applicants applying to become United States Citizens who admit to voting or registering to vote certainly risk being denied U.S. citizenship and subjected to potential deportation/removal, there is a modicum of hope. The interviewing officer has the power to exercise discretion, excuse the violations, and still approve the case. This is why hiring a skilled immigration attorney will be critically important in helping to advocate for and paint a compellingly sympathetic case before the immigration officer or Judge.