Santa Ana, California to vote on expanding voter access to noncitizens in 2024 elections

In November last year, the California city of Santa Ana’s City Council passed a resolution to include a non-citizens voting measure in the 2024 elections, which will determine whether non-citizens in Santa Ana will have the right to vote in municipal elections. If passed, this measure would set a new precedent in the expansion of voting rights for a group that has been historically prevented from voting.

Santa Ana is a majority Latino city in the heart of Orange County, with 30% of Santa Ana residents being non-citizens. The city has spearheaded rent control, immigrant protections and police accountability measures in a county that is notorious for reactionary politics – initiatives propelled by grassroots efforts. And now voters can determine if many more of their community members will have a say in city-wide elections.

Powered by Santa Ana Families for Fair Elections, the non-citizen voting act represents one of the many struggles immigrants and undocumented residents face while living in the United States. Non-citizens serve as a pillar to the country, but are also one of the most exploited groups in the U.S., always deprived of the ability to vote during elections. 

Phung, an undocumented single mother who immigrated from Vietnam, said in a public comment to the Santa Ana City Council that she has contributed years of work, taxes and support to the city but receives nothing in return. Her translator Vincent Tran also noted that she does not own a car and relies on public transit – which she helps pay for but does not have any say on due to her inability to vote for legislation that may influence it. 

Santa Ana particularly prides itself on its Latin American roots, built on immigration. It is also Orange County’s first and only sanctuary city. Mayor Valerie Amezcua just last year signed an agreement with the mayor of Sahuayo, Mexico, establishing Santa Ana and Sahuayo as sister cities. The Santa Ana City website proudly states that “Santa Ana has a large population of immigrants and residents with roots in Sahuayo.”

Despite this, many immigrant members of the community feel completely unheard by the City Council who use their heritage as a selling point. Amezcua has frequently opposed progressive legislation, including the non-citizen voting act which would give a voice to the very constituents she claims to uphold.

Araceli Robles, a dedicated promotora with Latino Health Access with years of experience fighting for renters’ rights, stated in a public comment at the November 7, 2023 meeting that she had been excited at the prospect of Santa Ana’s first woman mayor – but it was clear to her now that Amezcua was not advocating for the people. And because of Robles’ non-citizen status, she cannot currently participate in an election for mayor. The non-citizens of Santa Ana are completely excluded from participating in decisions that greatly impact their livelihood.

“Currently the Santa Ana mayor and Santa Ana City Council members are elected by excluding almost one third of the voting age population in the city,” Carlos Perea, longtime organizer, community member and a non-citizen himself, told Liberation. “That’s undemocratic. We live in supposedly the most democratic nation in the world, but many communities – whether it’s Indigenous, Black, or immigrants – we continue to fight for very basic things. Like the fight to have representation.”

Tracy La, director of VietRise and an immigrant rights activist, stated that if non-citizen voting passes, Santa Ana’s political landscape would change drastically. “Santa Ana has been the homebase, the heart, of some of the most progressive movements that have come out of the county … and a lot of the people who led those movements were undocumented. I think the [City] Council is going to completely change,” La said.

“We think another world is possible. [Noncitizen voting] would give a lot of hope, not just to this city, but to the county and to the whole country,” Gema Suarez, an organizer with El Centro de Cultural de México, described. “I think [Santa Ana] would be a sanctuary city for all immigrants and also indigenous peoples who have been called foreign in their own land.”

Another member of El Centro de Cultural de México, Silvia Avendano, told Liberation “The plutocracy will fall. We will tear that wall down. It will lead toward real democracy for the people.”

This ballot measure also follows a disingenuous recall attempt of Ward 3 Councilmember Jessie Lopez, who voted in favor of working-class interests like instituting rent control and refusing to bow to police union and landlord organizations’ coercive demands. Amezcua and Councilmember Phil Bacerra, who have received substantial donations from the police union and landlords, endorsed this recall. They are also two of three Councilmembers who voted against putting non-citizen voting on the ballot. 

However, should the ballot measure pass in November, it can minimize the reactionary values and influence of the Santa Ana police union that Amezcua and Bacerra represent.

Residents like Phung, Robles and Perea, who tirelessly work to better the community they love, would be on equal standing with their citizen counterparts. Issues that Santa Ana currently faces, which disproportionately impact working-class immigrant communities, such as unaffordable housing, lack of a reliable public transit system, excessive spending on police, corrupt public officials – these may finally be addressed in a way that actually benefits the community. 

The problems in Santa Ana are the same problems faced by every city in the U.S.  It is clear from conversations with residents and public comments made over the course of several council meetings that non-citizens want affordable housing, healthcare, equal rights – things that every person should have access to – and that they are willing to fight for it. In the event the act passes, Santa Ana would set a historic precedent and could inspire similar fights across the nation. 

Photo credit: LAist, Noncitizens Voting

Related Articles

Back to top button