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Should Non-Citizen Parents Be Allowed To Vote In LAUSD School Board Elections?

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California's multi-language "I Voted" stickers on offer for early voters at the Los Angeles County Registrar's Office in Norwalk, California, on November 5, 2018. (Photo by Frederic J. Brown/AFP/Getty Images)
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Los Angeles Unified School Board members each represent thousands of constituents who have a direct stake in the success of the district's schools but who cannot currently vote: parents who are not American citizens.

In a few weeks, though, the board may take a first step toward giving all parents -- including those living in the U.S. without legal authorization -- a right to vote in school board elections.

LAUSD board member Kelly Gonez formally introduced a resolution last week that proposes exploring a possible measure on the 2020 ballot that would open future LAUSD board elections to "all parents, legal guardians, or caregivers of a child residing within the boundaries of Los Angeles Unified."

"Those parents and guardians have an equal stake in the education of their children," Gonez said, "and I believe they should have a say in who represents them on the school board and who votes on their behalf."

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WHEN MIGHT THIS HAPPEN?

The board will take up Gonez's resolution in August. If approved after the board's summer break, the resolution directs district staff to present possible ballot language within 60 days along with "strategies for assuring the confidentiality of the right to vote and assuaging fears of retaliation due to immigration status."

Gonez said the timing of her resolution will allow board members to simultaneously consider two proposals to broaden LAUSD's voting base. The board has already moved to explore giving 16- and 17-year-olds a vote in LAUSD elections.

HOW MANY NON-CITIZENS COULD THEORETICALLY REGISTER?

It's hard to say precisely.

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LAUSD -- like many school districts -- doesn't track the citizenship status of the roughly 570,000 children who attend public schools within its boundaries, including charter schools. The same legal cases that require public schools to educate all students no matter their immigration status also limit districts' ability to ask about it, since prying questions might discourage parents from enrolling their children in school.

Statewide estimates show more than 320,000 school-aged children in California are living in the U.S. without legal permission -- the equivalent of 5% of the state's K-12 enrollment. But a larger percentage of California's students -- about 1 in 8 -- have at least one parent who isn't authorized to live in the U.S.

HAS ANYONE ELSE DONE THIS?

If ultimately enacted, LAUSD would join the San Francisco Unified School District in extending the right to vote in board elections to non-citizens.

But stepped-up federal immigration enforcement has complicated San Francisco's efforts to expand voting rights.

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Under state law, certain voter registration information -- including a voter's home address -- is public information. That combination has sparked fears that any non-citizen who signs up to vote in SFUSD elections is essentially revealing their addresses for Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents, according to reporting in Mother Jones.

During the 2018 election cycle, in a city with an estimated population of 44,000 unauthorized immigrants, only 49 non-citizens registered to vote in SFUSD elections. (The cost of registering them: $310,000, according to the Sacramento Bee.)

But the first challenge may be winning voter support in the first place. It took famously progressive San Francisco three attempts to grant non-citizens limited access to local elections. The idea failed at the ballot box in 2004 and 2010 before passing in 2016 with 54% of the vote.

Gonez is unsure how well the proposal will fare in L.A. on its first try, but said 2020's high-turnout presidential primary and general elections present a "good opportunity" to pass her proposal.

WHAT ARE THE ARGUMENTS FOR AND AGAINST?

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In 2016, the San Francisco Chronicle's opinion pages opposed the ballot measure giving non-citizens the right to vote.

"Restricting the franchise to people with citizenship," the newspaper editorialized, "serves to enforce social cohesion and to encourage immigrants to endure the naturalization process."

Gonez countered that many of her immigrant constituents "don't have a pathway to citizenship ... under [the Trump] Administration," but that obtaining voting rights isn't the primary reason most immigrants become citizens anyway.

"My abuelos both became citizens fairly recently," she said, "and the desire to become citizens was not based on solely the right to vote, but seeing [citizenship] ... as a way to say they were connected to this country."

Gonez, who represents the east San Fernando Valley on the LAUSD board, also said she expected pushback from those who favor more restrictive immigration policies in general.

"I do expect that there will be backlash," she said, "but ultimately, I'm a representative of my community."

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