‘Unconstitutional’: Southern Brooklyn pols speak out against city’s push to grant non-citizen voting rights

Southern Brooklyn pols want city to reevaluate local law granting non-citizens with work permits voting rights.
Southern Brooklyn pols want city to reevaluate local law granting non-citizens with work permits voting rights.
Photo by Arthur De Gaeta

Two southern Brooklyn representatives joined forces last week to demand the city back down on its push to allow non-citizens who meet certain criteria to vote in municipal elections.

U.S. Rep. Nicole Malliotakis and Council Member Ari Kagan on Aug. 23 urged the city stop its appeal of a New York State Supreme Court ruling struck down the noncitizen voting law, which passed the New York City Council in 2021. The law would have allowed non-U.S. citizens who have been residents of New York for at least 30 days and have work authorization to cast their votes in certain citywide elections.

Last year, a judge ruled the law violated the state constitution and could not go into effect earlier this year, as had been planned. The city has appealed the decision in hopes of eventually getting the law to pass. Per Gothamist, a ruling is not expected until the fall. 

The two spoke against the  proposed law and the appeal as more migrants arrive in the city, with many vying for work authorization cards.

pols at non-citizen voting presser
Kagan (right) said immigrants should go through the process of becoming citizens and registering to vote legally. Photo by Arthur De Gaeta

“The problem with this bill is obviously only U.S. citizens can vote in our elections. That is what the constitution says and as a matter of fact that is what a judge says,” Malliotakis said in a statement. 

Kagan, a former Democrat who changed parties last December, said he has never supported the bill that would allow non-citizens to vote in mayoral, city council and other local elections.

“I never changed my stance. After I became an American citizen, I pledged allegiance to the American flag and the American constitution and on the same day in the courtroom I registered to vote,” Kagan said. “ And I believe everybody should go through this process.”

The congresswoman, who represents Staten Island and parts of southern Brooklyn, said the city “needs to drop” the lawsuit — and accused Mayor Eric Adams of “misinterpreting” the Right to Shelter law, which mandates the city provide shelter for people who are unhoused. 

“If [migrants] are here for 30 days, just 30 days, and they do get the work authorization that the mayor and the governor are pushing for, they will be eligible to register to vote,” Malliotakis said. “That is wrong. And we will not allow it, and we will continue to fight this policy.”

The local law had over 30 supporters when it was first introduced in 2020, including Council Member Justin Brannan, who is running against Kagan for the District 47 city council seat; Council Speaker Adrienne E. Adams, and Brooklyn Borough President Antonio Reynoso, who was still serving as a council member at the time. 

“I was, am, and will continue to be supportive of extending voting rights in city elections to residents who live, work, and pay taxes here regardless of citizenship status,” Reynoso told Brooklyn Paper.  “Just like the rest of us, these folks are affected by the leadership of this city, and they deserve to have their voices heard in our electoral process.”

The law sparked controversy as the mayor and his administration work to house and care for the roughly 100,000 migrants who have come to seek asylum since April 2022. 

“With more than 101,200 asylum seekers arriving in New York City and asking for shelter, our city has now provided shelter and care for more migrants since last year than there are people in Albany,” Adams said in a statement. 

migrant right to vote rally
Mayor Eric Adams and a host of other elected officials are pushing the federal government to expedite work permits for migrants in the city.

Per federal law, asylum seekers must wait six months after filing their asylum application before they can file for a permit to work legally in the U.S. That means most of the migrants who have arrived in the city this year still can’t work legally — which advocates say forces them to rely fully on the city or support or to work illegally. The mayor – joined by activists and local politicians – last week urged the feds to expedite work permits for migrants at a rally in Manhattan.

“It is time to stop this madness and allow capable, able, willing and ready people to work, to contribute to our society and have a place in the American Dream,” Adams said. “Let’s let them work.” 

Kagan and Malliotakis said if the state’s appeal is granted, the expedited work permits would allow more than 100,000 non-citizens to vote in upcoming elections. 

“This law in my opinion is unconstitutional,” Kagan said. “We have to value American citizenship. We have to cherish [and] be proud of the ability to vote.”