The push by a Dominican American for voting reform in the nation's largest city

"How can we accept to live with a society in which people pay taxes," Ydanis Rod says, "without having their voice to elect their leaders?"

The push by a Dominican American for voting reform in the nation's largest city

Ydanis Rodriguez had a personal goal to expand voting rights to more than 800,000. Residents in the nation's largest city.

Rodriguez, 56, stated that he is one of "more than 35% of New Yorkers who were born in another country and adopted this city as their home."

Rodriguez was appointed New York's first Latino transportation commissioner by Eric Adams in January.

Rodriguez, a New York City Councilmember, was the principal sponsor of legislation , which became law last month. The law allows legal permanent residents or holders of green cards to vote in municipal elections. New Yorkers with legal authorization to work in the U.S. (including those with temporary protected status, young immigrants or under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) are also allowed to vote in municipal elections.

Rodriguez stated to NBC News that he was one of the people who held a green card between 1983 and 2000. He contributed, paid my taxes, and should be eligible to vote for the mayor or the comptroller. Rodriguez also said that he would like to vote for the public advocate, the council member, or borough president, who will decide how tax dollars are spent. "How can we accept that people have to pay taxes but not be able to elect their leaders?"

Rodriguez was born in Dominican Republic. He moved to New York City when he turned 18 years old. Rodriguez worked in many different jobs including serving food at a cafeteria, washing dishes and driving a taxi. After completing college, he studied political science and became a teacher. This was his occupation for 15 years.

According to the New American Economy bipartisan advocacy and research organization, New York City's immigrants pay nearly $85 billion annually in taxes.

Nationwide, immigrants contribute nearly $500 billion in taxes each year. This includes almost $3 billion in taxes from temporary protected immigrants and more than $6B from DACA recipients and young immigrants who don't have legal status.

Although smaller municipalities in Maryland and Vermont have already implemented similar laws, New York City was the first major city to do this.

Are you ready to join the pack of voters?

This law applies only to city elections. Non-citizens cannot vote in federal elections or state elections for governor, judges, and legislators.

It's a big step for Yatziri, a 29-year-old New Yorker. Tovar, a Mexican American, has lived in New York since she was two years old. She was a DACA recipient and became a lawful permanent residence in 2019.

Tovar stated, "Even though it isn't state or federal elections it's just the local elections. It does give me a sort of relief or that excitement that I'm now joining the pack, too."

Tovar said that she is excited to vote for her parents, who were among thousands of city workers during the Covid-19 epidemic, and worked as domestic cleaners or delivery drivers, even though they do not have legal immigration status.

Tovar stated that the vote was a "great step forward" and that it would allow for those protections and rights to be available to all.

Increasing numbers

34 of 51 council members, many of whom were Latino, cosponsored the new law. Four of the eleven Latino members were of Dominican descent. Rodriguez was one of them, which reflects the increasing numbers and growing political power of the Dominican American community.

Rodriguez is one of approximately 700,000 Dominicans living in New York City's five boroughs. They are the city's fastest growing Latino population, and the largest Latino group.

Rep. Adriano Espaillat (D-N.Y.) became the first Dominican American elected as Congress in 2016. About a dozen New York State Assembly Members are Dominican.

Rodriguez stated that New York City Council members have tried to grant legal residents the right to vote in municipal elections over the past 20 years. Rodriguez joined the City Council in 2009, when the first official bill was presented.

He said, "This is something that was born as a result a great alliance, not just of recent immigrants but also of people who are compassionate."

Advocate groups and policy organisations such as the New York Immigration Coalition which supported the legislation are now working to ensure that the law is implemented as planned.

Republican legislators filed a lawsuit Jan. 10, seeking to block the implementation of the new law and challenge its constitutionality.

Anu Joshi is the director of the New York Immigration Coalition's immigration policy. He said that it's unlikely that the legal challenges will delay the city's plans for eligible New Yorkers voting in the 2023 municipal elections.

Joshi stated that "we have done our own years worth of legal analysis and research and know that the bill is legal under both New York's state Constitution and the U.S. Constitution." We have also been able to learn from other cities and counties across the country who have implemented noncitizen voter in local elections.

The Board of Elections will begin to draw an implementation plan in the summer. This includes voter registration rules and provisions for creating separate ballots for municipal elections.

Rodriguez is optimistic about how the new voting law will impact immigrant families locally and nationally.

Rodriguez stated, "That's how you strengthen our democracy."


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