By: Tony Best
As many as 500,000 eligible voters from the Caribbean who live across the U.S. may find themselves unable to go the polls in next month’s presidential and congressional elections.
They are among the more than 10 million-plus immigrants from Latin America and the Caribbean who are naturalized American citizens but who may be deterred from registering and voting because of new laws being enacted in the country, according to civil and human rights groups. Several voter suppression campaigns led by the Republican Party and its lawmakers are underway in states that range from Florida, Georgia, Texas and North Carolina to Michigan, Colorado, Pennsylvania, and Ohio where West Indian communities are expanding as more and more immigrants from Jamaica, Haiti, the Dominican Republic, Trinidad and Tobago, Guyana, Barbados, Grenada and the rest of the Eastern Caribbean settle outside of the traditional cities and towns that for decades have been magnets for the foreign born, charge the civil rights advocates.
Organizations such as the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People headed by Ben Jealous, the Black Institute in New York and its leader Bertha Lewis, the Advancement Project and the National Action Network led by the Rev. Al Sharpton have raised the alarm about the negative fall-out from voter suppression campaigns can have on immigrants and others, especially, especially Spanish-speaking naturalized citizen.
Although places like New York, Washington D.C. and Massachusetts which have the largest West Indian immigrant communities in the country haven’t enacted such restrictive laws as has occurred in Arizona, Texas, Colorado and Pennsylvania, the concerns are being raised about their potential negative impact on the ability of eligible immigrant voters on Hispanics and West Indians.
“There is a need for vigilance in the Caribbean immigrant communities across the United States, including New York as we approach the presidential and congressional elections,” said Lewis of the Black Institute. “There is a systematic campaign underway to prevent immigrants from going to the polls and people must be aware of what’s being done to discourage them from registering to vote and from going to the polls.”
The NAACP, the nation’s oldest and largest civil rights group, has spoken out against voter suppression and has turned to the United Nations to draw international attention to the legal barriers to voting, warning that millions of immigrants and African-Americans may be deterred from casting their ballots in November. In addition, the NAACP has complained about the millions of native-born Blacks who are being denied the right to exercise their constitutional right because they were previously convicted of a felony offence.
“Nearly 5.3 million U.S. citizens have been stripped of their voting rights on a temporary basis, including more than 4.4 million who are no longer incarcerated,” charged Lorraine Miller, Chair of the Advocacy and Policy Committee of the NAACP’s National Board of Directors. “More than two million are African-America, yet African-Americans make up less than 13 per cent of the U.S. population.”
The NAACP has praised Eric Holder, America’s first Black Attorney General and the son of Caribbean immigrant parents, for the Justice Department’s work to prevent the implementation of recent challenges to voting rights.
“However, we are deeply concerned with the continued practice and discriminatory impact of felony disenfranchisement,” Miller told a panel of the UN Human Rights Council at a session at the UN Palais de Nations in Geneva.
Using U.S. Census data, the Advancement Project warned in a report that the combined effects of voter purges, demands for proof of citizenship and the imposition of stringent voter identification rules may prevent at least 10 million Hispanic citizens from voting in November. Analysts who studied the report and the census data believe that the impact on West Indians could be severe as well.
“Like African-Americans, Latinos have experienced decreased access and correspondingly low levels of voter registration and participation than non-Hispanic whites,” stated the Advancement Project, which called for the repeal of policies that block immigrant voters. It also urged Attorney-General Holder and the Justice Department to investigate and prosecute “any related voting rights violations.”
It listed laws and tactics that seek to purge voter lists; the insistence on proof of citizenship; and demands for photo identification laws as the major deterrents to immigrant registration and voting. Sixteen states have so far enacted such laws or plan to do so.
“Naturalized citizens typically received their driver’s licenses when they were legal immigrants but before becoming naturalized citizens (and before registering to vote); therefore, this method generates lists of voters to be checked that targets naturalized citizens,” the Advancement Project warned.
Some of the new laws are also demanding certified birth certificate, passport or naturalization papers in order to register to vote, requirements that serve as roadblocks to exercising their constitutional rights.
The report charged that the demands were “previously unheard of” in the U.S. contending that the additional documentation puts “onerous and sometimes expensive” requirements on immigrants.
And that’s how West Indians could become victims and prevented from voting.