Queens neighborhoods shortchanged

Neighborhoods in Queens from Astoria to Flushing are being harmed because immigrants who are legal residents, but not citizens, are not allowed to vote in local elections, according to the New York Coalition to Expand Voting Rights.

“These are the traditional immigrant communities of Queens,” said Cheryl Wertz, co-founder of the coalition, which held a press conference on Nov. 7 on the steps of City Hall to draw attention to the fact that today, there are 1.3 million legal, tax-paying residents who will not be able to participate in the elections to choose judges for the state civil court, the state supreme court, and district attorney [the elections were held the following day on November 8].

According to Wertz, one out of every five legal residents in New York City cannot vote in local elections (which in recent years have included the most important positions like those for mayor and city council members). These numbers could increase in neighborhoods like Jackson Heights and Corona, given the rise in their immigrant populations.

Yolanda Andersson is one of those statistics. The Colombian mother, who lives in Queens, arrived in New York City 11 years ago and has been a legal resident for more than five years.

“I’ve been paying taxes since I arrived in this country, but I don’t have a voice. I can’t vote because they haven’t granted me citizenship,” said Andersson. “If I could vote, I would be able to choose the right person to do a good job in the community. We have a lot of problems that need to be solved, like the shortage of community centers and overcrowded schools, among others,” she added.

In November 2010, city council member Daniel Dromm presented a bill called the Voting Rights Restoration Act, better known as Intro 410, which aims to allow legal residents to vote in city elections. As of now, 21 of the 51 city council members support the legislation, but 27 are needed in order for the bill to pass.

“Voting embodies the principles of equality and fairness upon which our democracy is based,” said Dromm, president of the council’s committee on immigration and a strong advocate for the campaign. “When all contributing members of our society can participate, democracy is better served, and everyone benefits. Nothing in the U.S. or state constitution precludes the notion of letting residents vote.”

For her part, Irma Rodríguez, executive director of the organization Queens Community House, said that when only one part of the population can make decisions for the entire community, the democratic process “is in crisis.”

“Immigrants pay more than $18.2 billion a year in New York State income taxes. They are not only daily users of public transportation, schools, and hospitals, they provide a significant portion of the funding for those institutions,” added the activist.

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