The Path to Citizenship is also the Path to Democracy

By: Madeline Coffey

This past week, I’ve been volunteering with the NC Democratic Coordinated Campaign through the State Democratic Party.  My time has been spent doing voter registration; it’s the one thing all of us young politicos dread.  We know it’s necessary, but sometimes walking up to random people can seem daunting.  On Monday, Wake Forest University was my turf.  As I walked through campus asking everyone I saw if they had registered to vote, I noticed a trend.  Unknown to me when I approached, many of the students I talked with could not register to vote because of their status as non-citizens.  Many of the students seemed, at least in my perception, to be disappointed that they were not allowed to vote.  Admittedly, I became very disappointed as well.

These students hailed from all around the world to come to the United States for an education and possibly more, but I know from experience that Wake Forest is more than a school.  It is a home to many of us.  Especially for students who don’t like to or can’t return to their hometowns, Wake Forest is the center of our worlds.  Here’s the thing.  As I encountered more and more students with this story, I came to be incredibly disheartened that those students living in the U.S. who are deeply affected by U.S. policy are not given a voice in which to shape it.  The citizenship requirement for voting has been in place since the birth of our nation, but I think it’s time to change.

If you live in the U.S., you should be able to vote.  Period.  I mentioned this to a friend of mine, who responded that it would be irresponsible for us to allow all residents to vote because they have no ties to our country.  I refute this claim.  Despite being a citizen and a permanent resident since birth, I have no ties either.  Today, I saw critiques of USA Olympic gold medalist Gabby Douglass circulating around social media for the refusal to put her hand over her heart during the pledge of allegiance.  I stand with her.  American nationalism and exceptionalism is the root of all of our social ills, in my opinion.  So since I have no allegiance to this country, should I be prohibited from voting?  Of course not because I am a white citizen of the United States; my allegiance will never be questioned.

You might ask why I vote if I have no allegiance to the United States, so I will tell you.  I vote because I want to have allegiance to the nation.  I want to be proud of us for something other than exceptionalist policy that drags the rest of the world down while we thrive.  I want to be proud of the accomplishments of our nation that don’t rest on the exploitation of others.  Until then, I have no allegiance.  What I do have is hope.  I have hope that we can change, and I would guess that many non-citizens do, too.

That is why I believe that all residents should be allowed to vote in our elections.  Many non-citizens, not limited to documented immigrants, came to our nation to find a better life.  We should help them to achieve that goal, but we can’t if we don’t know how.  Giving all residents the right to vote would allow non-citizens to have a voice in a political system that currently represents them without consent.

Now, I have talked often about setting realistic goals, and I realize that this one is far from realistic, at least in current times.  However, I think that there is an alternative solution: the path to U.S. citizenship.  The United States currently has no path to citizenship for individual residents although they are plentiful.  If we claim to represent all Americans, we cannot limit ourselves to American citizens.  This is home to all of us, and we should make it feel like it by welcoming residents to become citizens.  This is not to say that any of the students I talked to expressed a desire to become citizens; our interactions didn’t go that far.  However, it does seem that voting is something many folks would like to be able to participate in and reasonably so.

So for now, let’s rally behind our friends, family, and acquaintances who have no voice in our republic.  Let’s use our votes in a way that benefits non-citizens and will help them to gain a voice in the future.  A path to citizenship is the only way that we can maintain a fair and equal democracy.  Everyone deserves a voice.  If you’re a citizen, offer your voice until we can create a platform for more voices to be heard.  Vote in the interest of all Americans rather than for yourselves.

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