Permanent residents can face serious consequences for voting

On Behalf of | Nov 5, 2018 | US Immigration Law

The midterm elections are just around the corner. The Get Out the Vote efforts in your community may have you excited to participate in the democratic process. But if you’re a permanent resident, it’s important to understand that you are not allowed to vote.

While a few states have local elections in which permanent residents may vote, most elections—including the midterm election on November 6—require you to be a U.S. citizen to participate. Even if you’re a green card holder who’s currently in the process of applying for citizenship, you’re not allowed to vote until your citizenship is confirmed.

Misunderstanding surrounding voter eligibility can create real problems if you vote with a green card. When you register to vote, you must sign a document affirming that you are a U.S. citizen. Therefore, when you register to vote as a permanent resident, you are by effect falsely claiming to be a citizen—which is a felony. You can be prosecuted—even if you didn’t understand what you were signing or that you were breaking the law.

A permanent resident charged with voter fraud can face any of the following criminal penalties:

  • Prison sentence
  • Hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines
  • Removal of green card
  • Denial of naturalization
  • Deportation

Regarding the final penalty, it’s worth noting that a court conviction is not required for deportation. According to the Immigration and Nationality Act, “[a]ny alien who falsely represents, or has falsely represented, himself to be a citizen of the United States for any purpose or benefit under this Act […] or any Federal or State law is deportable.”

Some permanent residents—unsure of their voter eligibility—have truthfully declared their country of citizenship in their registration application. They assumed that any election worker who reviewed their registration application would deny it if they were, in fact, ineligible. To them, being allowed to register was a confirmation that they were eligible—and so they voted. Two such green card holders are now facing up to a year in prison and $100,000 in fines.

In this era of heightened scrutiny surrounding immigration, it’s more important than ever to be informed of the rights you have—and don’t have—as a lawful permanent resident. Once you become a citizen, you can contribute your vote on election day.