College Park Council Tables Immigration Voting Proposal

College Park, Maryland's city council meets at city hall on Aug. 8. (William J. Ford/The Washington Informer)

College Park, Maryland, has a proposal for undocumented immigrants to vote in local elections, but the city council decided to postpone that decision last week.

Councilwoman Christine Nagle, who sponsored the legislation, said rescheduling a possible vote next month gives the council and residents more time to discuss the topic.

The council will discuss the proposed charter amendment Sept. 5 and decide the following week to either allow non-U.S. citizens to vote, or place the item on a referendum in the Nov. 7 municipal election.

After the council quickly voted last week to table the measure, residents spoke passionately on the topic.

“We cannot have a double standard in our city for our residents who … comply with your ordinances cannot vote for you,” Judy Gail Blumenthal said Aug. 8.

Lee Havis, 73, said as long as residents follow the law, he doesn’t mind them voting.

“Citizenship provides a certain measure … and gives at least an assurance that a person has had some citizenship awareness,” he said prior to the council session. “You have to know something about the constitution, about the laws and what’s involved in electing people.”

Denise Mitchell, a former city councilwoman, said the board can amend the charter for non-U.S. citizens who live full-time in College Park to vote in local races. However, “it needs to go to referendum and let the residents vote on how the charter should be changed.”

Denise Mitchell (left), former College Park councilwoman, chats with other residents on Aug. 8 after the city council postponed a plan on whether undocumented immigrants can vote in local elections. (William J. Ford/The Washington Informer)
Denise Mitchell (left), former College Park councilwoman, chats with other residents on Aug. 8 after the city council postponed a plan on whether undocumented immigrants can vote in local elections. (William J. Ford/The Washington Informer)

According to the amendment, voting wouldn’t extend to presidential and congressional races. If the council passes a resolution next month, undocumented residents can’t vote in this year’s election.

The state of Maryland’s “Home Rule” law passed in 1954 allows its 157 municipalities them to manage themselves, subsequently allowing officials to permit undocumented citizens to vote in local races.

The city would join several other municipalities allowing immigrants to vote, including the cities of Hyattsville and Mount Rainier in Prince George’s, which approved measures last year. Both border each other and Hyattsville adjoins College Park.

Immigration was a major topic in last year’s presidential election, and the Trump administration has warned cities, towns and other jurisdictions to comply with the federal government on immigration enforcement or risk the withholding of federal funds.

In College Park, Prince George’s County Police posted outside City Hall after an unnamed council member received a phone threat because of the noncitizen legislation.

Dozens of residents and those outside the city chose to email their opinions for and against the proposed legislation, with more than 50 pages posted on the city’s website.

“Other local cities — our closest neighbors — have proudly made this change with positive results that have helped bring their communities closer together,” wrote Raymond and Joyce Rose of College Park.

One particular group not among the emailers, Help Save Maryland of Rockville in neighboring Montgomery County, advocates on its website to challenge policies that encourage illegal immigration.

One of its goals: “No drivers’ licenses, in-state tuition, voting privileges or access to state and local governments service for illegal aliens.”

The group’s director, Brad Botwin, declined to comment, but said in an email a comment will be made after next month’s College Park meeting.

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About William J. Ford – Washington Informer Staff Writer 288 Articles
I decided I wanted to become a better writer while attending Bowie State University and figured that writing for the school newspaper would help. I’m not sure how much it helped, but I enjoyed it so much I decided to keep on doing it, which I still thoroughly enjoy 20 years later. If I weren’t a journalist, I would coach youth basketball. Actually, I still play basketball, or at least try to play, once a week. My kryptonite is peanut butter. What makes me happy – seeing my son and two godchildren grow up. On the other hand, a bad call made by an official during a football or basketball game makes me throw up my hands and scream. Favorite foods include pancakes and scrambled eggs which I could eat 24-7. The strangest thing that’s ever happened to me, or more accurately the most painful, was when I was hit by a car on Lancaster Avenue in Philadelphia. If I had the power or money to change the world, I’d make sure everyone had three meals a day. And while I don’t have a motto or favorite quote, I continue to laugh which keeps me from driving myself crazy. You can reach me several ways: Twitter @jabariwill, Instagram will_iam.ford2281 or e-mail, wford@washingtoninformer.com

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