Intent Is Not a Consideration When a Non-U.S. Citizen Votes In a Federal Election

There are many benefits enjoyed by Legal Permanent Residents in the United States that are similar to rights possessed by U.S. Citizens. However, there are some key rights that are reserved for U.S. Citizens, and a Legal Permanent Resident may risk losing his/her status by exercising those rights. One such right is the right to vote in an election for federal office, for example, voting in an election to elect the president of the United States.

A Lawful Permanent Resident generally has the right to live and work in the U.S. and to vote in local and state elections that do not require a voter to be a U.S. Citizen in order to vote. A Legal Permanent Resident who votes in a federal election, or in a state or local election that requires the person to attest they are a U.S. Citizen, violates the law by doing so and may face criminal charges.

Earlier this year, the Board of Immigration Appeals decided a case in which, the government sought to revoke a Legal Permanent Resident’s status and have her declared a removable alien based on her voting in a federal election. The Legal Permanent Resident in this case had applied for a driver’s license and at the same time applied to become a registered voter. In order to register as a voter, the Legal Permanent Resident had to check a box indicating she was a U.S. Citizen; she subsequently voted in a federal general election.

The Legal Permanent resident contended that she was not subject to removal from the U.S. based on her violation of the federal law prohibiting non-U.S. Citizens from voting because the government had not shown that she intended to vote in the election. However, the Board of Immigration Appeals decided that the law is a general intent law that does not require the government to show that a non-U.S. Citizen intended to vote in violation of the law. Therefore, under the law, the government only has to show that the non-U.S. Citizen knew that it was wrong to vote in the election, and voted anyway. In this case, the Legal Permanent Resident knew at the time of the application for voter registration and when she voted that she was not a U.S. Citizen, and yet she checked the box asserting she was a U.S. Citizen and then voted in the election.

One Exception

The law prohibiting non-U.S. Citizens from voting does provide a narrow exception for a non-U.S. Citizen who votes in an election if he meets the following conditions:

  • One or both of his natural parents is or was a U.S. Citizen;
  • The voting non-Citizen resided in the U.S. before his 16th birthday; and
  • The voting non-Citizen reasonably, but mistakenly, thought he was a U.S. Citizen at the time of voting.

Legal Permanent Residents should exercise caution when checking boxes and making affirmations as to citizenship, because their intent may not be taken into consideration and they may lose important rights.

Contact a South Florida Immigration Attorney

If you have immigration related legal issues or questions and need advice on your particular immigration issue, you should Contact an experienced South Florida immigration attorney at The Law Offices of Alex T. Barak, P.A. today.