HomeAsian AmericansSan Francisco immigrants granted permanent right to vote in school board elections

San Francisco immigrants granted permanent right to vote in school board elections

By Julie Tong, AsAmNews Intern

The Immigrant Parent Voting Collaborative (IPVC) has won a significant victory for immigrants in San Francisco, as the rights of non-citizens to vote in San Francisco Unified School District (SFUSD) elections has been permanently extended.

The new extension builds off of Proposition N, which, per Ballotpedia, initially granted non-citizen parents the right to vote in School Board elections in 2016. These voters will be able to participate in a recall election of three school board members on February 15th, as well as all future elections, giving them a greater civic voice than before. This victory comes as a result of the grassroots efforts of the IPVC’s eight member groups, which include Chinese for Affirmative Action (CAA), Coleman Advocates, African Advocacy Network, Mission Graduates, MEDA, Carecen SF, La Raza Community Resource Center, and the Arab Resource & Organizing Center.

At a press conference hosted by IPVC on January 27th, supervisor Connie Chan, who co-sponsored the bill with Supervisor Myrna Melgar, spoke about the importance of suffrage for immigrant parents.

“Our vote is our voice, and it is critical for us to push forward, to make sure that everyone has a voice at the table,” Chan said.  

Granting voting rights to non-citizens holds deep personal significance for Chan. After arriving in San Francisco as a thirteen year old, Chan witnessed her mother, who only spoke Cantonese, struggle to navigate the intricacies of a school system she was unfamiliar with in a language she did not yet know. Today, as a parent of children attending public school, she appreciates the importance of having a “voice at the table” to influence her children’s educational futures.

“Because of [my] mom I get to have so much more privilege in San Francisco than she ever experienced,” Chan said. “She was who I was thinking about when we talk about non-citizen voting for parents and guardians to participate in our education and school system.”

By Magerleagues via Flickr Creative Commons

At the press conference, representatives from the eight member groups of IPVC spoke about the importance of the right to vote and directly engage with the SFUSD School Board in their lives. Ah Yee, a mother of three children attending SFUSD, was initially unaware that her voice could influence her children’s education. However, becoming a community educator and suffrage advocate within CAA exposed Yee to the positive effects of participating in civic engagement.

“I’ve gained a lot from my involvement in non-citizen parent voting. I’ve learned to be actively involved at my children’s school meetings, to confidently express my own concerns and suggestions, to enhance my self confidence, and to effectively communicate with others in parents spaces,” Yee said in Cantonese through translator Crystal Van. “I was also able to study and understand the history of suffrage in the United States and how our school system operates.”

Yee was enthusiastic about the permanent extension of voting rights to non-citizens, stating: “This will encourage more non-citizen parents to participate in the Board of Education elections and also demonstrates the support for immigrant communities during these polarizing times in the United States.”

Other speakers stressed the importance of engagement alongside the voting process. Norma, a parent leader in Mission Graduates, was involved in advocating for the passing of Proposition N in 2016. For her, participating in candidate forums has been particularly helpful.

“I can learn more about how exactly is it each of those candidates would advocate and work to improve the meet the needs of our kids have in schools,” Norma said in Spanish through translator Eric Cuentos. Later, she added: “I walked away feeling informed and actually listened to as well by the candidates for school board.”

So far, according to Department of Elections representative Eva Peña Avila, the extension has had an impact: 123 non-citizens have registered to vote, and 33 of them have already voted in the February 15th recall. However, Avila also stresses that the voter registration deadline is quickly approaching. Multiple leaders, such as Chan and IPVC representative Lucia Obregon, urged parents to register before the January 31st deadline passes.

“Voting is our voice, as Supervisor Chan mentioned, and it takes all of us—it takes partnerships between the city, nonprofits, and community—to continue to fortify this right,” Obregon said. “We understand that there can be many barriers to registering and voting. But our message is that our communities are stronger when we all participate.”

The permanent extension is part of San Francisco’s efforts to make the city more welcoming to immigrants. Richard Whipple, a partner at the Office of Civic Engagement and Immigrant Affairs (OCEIA), noted that the permanent extension is the most recent of the city’s extensive efforts to support non-citizens. These initiatives include a municipal ID card program, sanctuary city ordinance, language access ordinance, and Proposition C, which allows immigrants to participate on city boards and commissions.

Still, leaders like Chan stress that there is still much progress to be made in fully winning the rights and support that immigrants in San Francisco deserve. “The work is not done. There’s so much more to do, and we need to continue to push forward,” she said. “And so, let’s make sure that we stand together and continue to do this work and not give up.”

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