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Study recommends voting for noncitizens

UCLA Law School's Chicano center calls for
amendment to state constitution

By Gillian Flaccus
Associated Press

LOS ANGELES -- A UCLA law school study released Wednesday says the state constitution should be amended so California's 4.6 million noncitizen adults can vote in local elections.

Nearly one-fifth of the state's adults are noncitizens and in 12 cities they form the majority, according to the study, which was commissioned by UCLA Law School's Chicano Studies Research Center.

The study also found that noncitizens make up more than one- quarter of the population in 85 California cities and that 28 percent of the state's noncitizens are Hispanic.

"It's really a harbinger of things to come and unless we start to address this issue, we're going to have a political apartheid in California,' said Joaquin Avila, the study's author and an instructor at UCLA law school.

The study, based on 2000 Census data, comes days after Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger repealed a law that would have allowed undocumented immigrants to obtain driver's licenses.

Anti-immigration rights groups reacted angrily, saying the study undermined the legal process for naturalization and essentially sanctioned illegal immigration.

"The distinction between citizens and noncitizens has been seriously eroded over the past generations, and the only difference left is the ability to vote. That's not a trivial thing,' said Mark Krikorian, executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies in Washington, D.C.

"A person who isn't a citizen yet is essentially shacking up with America. It's important to the health of the body politic that that difference be preserved.'

Avila said the proposed amendment would not mandate the vote for noncitizens, but would give local governments the latitude to allow it if they choose. Any constitutional amendment would have to go to voters.

Audrey Singer, an immigration expert with the Brookings Institution in Washington, D.C., said cities and school boards in some states including Maryland, Illinois and New York already allow noncitizens to vote in local elections.

Until the 1920s, nearly half of all local elections included noncitizens but an immigration backlash following World War II sharply curtailed the practice, she said.

On the Net:

UCLA Chicano Studies Research Center: www.sscnet.ucla.edu/csrc/