The Rubio-Schumer immigration bill in the Senate would legalize around 11 million currently illegal immigrants 6 months after passage. Most would have to wait over a decade to become citizens, but they would be legal immigrants under Federal law. If a current proposal in New York City is adopted, they would also be able to vote in municipal elections. The city is considering extended voting rights to legal immigrants.
If the New York City proposal passes, it is likely that other cities will consider similar expansions of the voting rolls. Already 4 towns in Massachusetts and a half-dozen cities in Maryland allow non-citizen immigrants to vote. This is the challenge of rushing massive federal legislation through our federalist system. Federal law does not exist in a vacuum, but effects laws at all levels of government.
The Rubio-Schumer bill blocks newly legalized immigrants from receiving welfare benefits. A number of states, however, allow non-citizen immigrants to collect benefits. This means that some number of the 11 million newly legalized immigrants will be eligible, within just 6 months, for taxpayer-funded benefits.
The collision of the Rubio-Schumer bill and the New York City proposal also creates a potential political conflict. Government would have to maintain two distinct voter rolls, those allowed to vote in state and federal elections and those only allowed to vote in municipal elections. It isn’t hard to imagine some states seeking to expand the voting franchise to state elections, as well. Ballot integrity would become even more vulnerable.
One can also imagine legal and political challenges on behalf of these municipal voters whom we’ll be told are “second class” when it comes to federal and state elections.
The potential smash-up of the two proposals should further caution us to be deliberate when considering massive changes to existing law. Any change in law will always spark certain unintended consequences. We just shouldn’t seek them out.