Should aliens have the right to vote?

Georgie Anne Geyer

April 07, 1992|By Georgie Anne Geyer

THE LAST week of March, two D.C. City Council members took an interesting, unannounced trip to El Salvador.

Frank Smith and Harry Thomas flew to San Salvador on March 23, without notifying either the American Embassy there or the Salvadoran Embassy here, and traveled around for a week, largely to formerly Marxist rebel-held territory.

Members of the curious 16-member delegation, which included immigration activists from D.C., made it clear when they returned home a week later where their sympathies lay. They spoke of observing naked children running around town squares and of an undetonated bomb on church steps with the words on it: "Made in the U.S.A."

"We were on an emotional roller coaster the whole time we were there," Yvonne Martinez Vega was quoted as saying when she returned home. She is the executive director of Ayuda, a pro-immigration legal services agency in the Adams Morgan neighborhood here where largely Salvadoran riots erupted last spring, was quoted as saying when she returned home.

Well, at first a little trip like this one might seem to be only an aftermath of the controversial 13-year American involvement in the bitter Salvadoran war, of a certain type of liberal hangover over American military aid to the troglodyte Salvadoran military; or a stubborn, but ultimately doomed, refusal to accept the fact that the Salvadoran war is finally over -- for Americans, as well as for Salvadorans.

However, the delegation went there with the announced intent of the trip as being to propose in the D.C. City Council that non-citizens be permitted to vote in city elections.

Should anyone think that such a proposal is not to be taken very seriously, consider the fact that one neighborhood of Washington, Takoma Park, already voted last November to give aliens the right to vote. And one can see from various actions across the country that this act heads the new agenda of a substantial part of the activist left.

Or, as Jamin B. Raskin, a sympathetic assistant law professor at American University, wrote at the time of the Takoma Park vote in the Los Angeles Times: "It is a controversial idea but, if picked up by large cities -- like Los Angeles, Washington, New York and Houston -- it could strengthen American democracy by including in the crucial processes of local government many hundreds of thousands of people born elsewhere . . . "

Faced with a mind-set and an agenda so extraordinary as to voluntarily give political control of a nation to people who have no formal commitment to it, one hardly knows where to start, the idea is so outrageous. Yet, to disentangle these new webs of special-interest social engineering, just begin with one question of many: Would giving the vote to aliens indeed really "strengthen American democracy"?

To the contrary, it would weaken American democracy on every possible level.

What officials such as the two city councilmen don't seem to want to realize is that nations are fragile creatures. They exist only insofar as individual human beings of those nations make a compact -- a social contract, if you will -- with their governments. To "give" that sacred right to people who, however deserving of sympathy, do not choose to engage in that contract -- and indeed hold primary loyalty to another nation -- is to invite into American life exactly the division and breakdown we see in the former Soviet Union. And that is not, most unfortunately, exaggerating the present situation. For America is already so internally divided that this would only widen the schisms we already see.

When Councilmen Smith and Thomas came home from El Salvador, they seemed more hesitant about their originally announced intention. Salvador is now finally at peace, after all. That means it is far more difficult to make the argument that the Salvadorans here illegally are political refugees. Moreover, any fair analysis of political life there would now see that American policy in Central America finally did force reform of the military in El Salvador and thus the peace treaty as well.

When they returned, Smith and Thomas were saying that perhaps they should let the voters decide in a referendum whether resident aliens should vote in local elections. What they were not saying is that it is they who would benefit, were the tens of thousands of Salvadorans in Washington able to vote. What these two black councilmen were also not saying is that extending the vote to aliens would further disadvantage their own black constituents, who struggled for so many years to have the right to vote.

What they were not saying was how terribly cynical the whole drama really is.

Georgie Anne Geyer is a syndicated columnist.

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