For some immigrants, voting is a criminal act

From The New York Times

The way Joseph E. Joseph tells it, he was just doing his civic duty.

On his way home from work one evening in 1992, he came across a group of volunteers in Brooklyn registering people to vote. Mr. Joseph, a legal permanent resident who had immigrated from St. Kitts eight years earlier, decided it was time to sign up. He cast a ballot in that year’s presidential election, he said, and in every one since.

His participation in American democracy came at a steep cost: The government is now trying to deport him.

In the United States, only citizens are allowed to vote in national and statewide elections. And while immigrants who are granted permanent residency — a green card — enjoy an array of privileges, including the right to work, they can lose them all and be expelled from the country if the authorities discover that they have even registered to vote.

“I thought that was expected of me,” said Mr. Joseph, who volunteered the information on his citizenship application in 2008 and during his naturalization interview in 2009. “I felt like I was part of the democracy.”

Officials with United States Citizenship and Immigration Services, which processes immigrants’ visas and naturalization petitions, say the agency does not keep records of how many noncitizens have been caught violating voting laws.

Many election law experts said there was no evidence that the violations happened frequently — or at least enough to skew election results.

But for those who do register to vote and get caught, the penalties can be severe. Lawyers at the Legal Aid Society, a nonprofit group for low-income New Yorkers, said that they had handled at least eight cases in the past few years involving permanent residents who faced deportation because they had registered to vote.

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