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Should Non-U.S. Citizens Be Eligible To Serve On City Of Dallas Advisory Boards? Voters Will Decide.

Residents walk to a poll site in Dallas County during the 2020 elections.
Keren Carrión
/
KERA News
There will be quite a few Dallas city council shakeups, with all 14 seats on the ballot open. Election Day is May 1.
Corrected: April 22, 2021 at 10:30 AM CDT
A previous version of this story said all City of Dallas boards and commissions had a citizenship requirement. Only the park board and city plan commission, redistricting commission and civil service board have that requirement.

In the spring election, Dallas voters will decide if non-U.S. citizens should be allowed to serve on four of the city's advisory boards and commissions. The city has more than 50, but the park board, city plan commission, redistricting commission and civil service board require a citizenship to serve.

This could be determined in two propositions:

  • Proposition A: Eliminating the requirement that a member of a board or commission created by the city charter be registered or qualified to vote.
  • Proposition B: Eliminating the requirement that a member of the Civil Service Board be a qualified taxpaying citizen.

Ramiro Luna is the founder of Somos Tejas, a civic group leading a collective of community leaders who’ve built a campaign around the ballot initiative.

“Whenever we speak of non-citizens, it's not just a community of undocumented immigrants," Luna said. "It's really a community of legal permanent residents, a community of visa holders who came to the United States because of different skill sets and specialties and it is also Dreamers.”

The long-time immigrant advocate has been fighting for the rights of Deferred Action For Childhood Arrivals (DACA) recipients for years and said this ballot item excludes them too.

“It’s a whole plethora of immigrants who are barred from participating in the city and serving in the city because of language,” he said.

A part of Luna’s push to get this ballot item approved is changing language in the city that has historically barred, othered and discriminated against immigrants in Dallas.

The proposal was spearheaded by District 5 city council member Jaime Resendez, after he wanted Dallas resident Edith Rodriguez to serve in one of the boards and was denied the request due to language in the city’s charter.

voting polling dallas-kc-5.jpg
Keren Carrión
Early voting starts April 19, and Election Day is May 1.

“See at the moment [she] was not a U.S. citizen, and although she is now, because of that technicality there, they were denying her that opportunity,” said Luna.

A city charter or town charter is a basic legal document that defines the city’s powers, rules, functions and essential procedures.

According to the Dallas Morning News, if this ballot proposition is approved by voters it could make Dallas the second major city to change its city charter to remove the “qualified voter” requirement that excludes non-U.S. citizens. San Francisco was the first.

“This is long overdue. None of us are promised another day, let alone another term, who's to say that the next council will even make this a priority,” said Resendez during a city council meeting in early February.

For Resendez, this issue is personal.

“My parents were formerly undocumented immigrants,” said Resendez. “So if my parents wanted to serve on the park board, they wouldn't have been able to do so. That's heartbreaking.”

During the meeting, he urged the council to vote “yes” to adding the proposition to this election ballot.

"That education side to the campaign is the most important for us. So we're utilizing the phone banking, canvassing," said Jasmin Flores, a consultant at Strong Inclusive Dallas.

"It's really about having a conversation, because the best way to be relatable is to relate to somebody's story."

Flores is the daughter of immigrants from El Salvador. She shares her story when she goes door to door, breaking down this ballot item for voters.

“Currently, there are thousands of residents who are denied this access, who are Dallasites through and through, like myself, who've been here for over 30 years now, and are denied this opportunity because of a technicality and language that is discriminatory,” said Luna.

Early voting ends on April 27. Election Day is on May 1.

Got a tip? Alejandra Martinez is a Report For America corps member and writes about the impact of COVID-19 on underserved communities for KERA News. Email Alejandra at amartinez@kera.org. You can follow Alejandra on Twitter @alereports.

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