Participating In The Election Process
On November 2, 2004, the United States of America will hold national elections for President. Many other
elections will also take place on that day for important offices such as those for the U.S. Senate and U.S.
House of Representatives comprising the United States Congress. While most attention is focused on the
Presidential election, the makeup of the U.S. Congress is also very important, since this often determines
which bills or proposals are sent to the President for signature.
It is important to understand how each of us may play a role in the U.S. election process. Whether
nonimmigrant, lawful permanent resident, or U.S. citizen; your participation in the electoral process is
critical so that those elected to office are truly representing the People, not only a small group that is more
vocal and more active.
Nonimmigrants are NOT permitted to vote in United States elections. They may not contribute funds to
political campaigns to help those who are running for political office, either directly or indirectly. In addition
to nonimmigrants, foreign governments, foreign political parties, foreign corporations, foreign
associations, foreign partnerships, and individuals with foreign citizenship are not permitted to give money
to federal, state, or local elections in the U.S.
Nonimmigrants may be permitted to volunteer personal services to a federal candidate or political
committee without making a monetary contribution, but the nonimmigrant must not be compensated by
anyone for this effort. The U.S. Federal Election Commission (FEC) has issued an advisory opinion that a
foreign national student may provide uncompensated volunteer services. By contrast, a foreign national
artist was prohibited in an advisory opinion from donating services in connection with fundraising for a
campaign. Donating services at a discounted rate, buying fundraising tickets or items, assisting in any
way with loans and loan endorsements, or providing money to a person who is considering becoming a
candidate are also prohibited.
Because of the complexity of the rules and the potential fines or imprisonment for violations of these laws,
it is advisable for any nonimmigrant who may want to volunteer for a political campaign to seek an
Advisory Opinion http://www.fec.gov/pages/brochures/ao.htm from the FEC regarding the proposed
activity to avoid possible investigation or prosecution. A general overview of the FEC rules pertaining to
foreign nationals can be found through Campaign Finance Law Resources on the FEC WebSite.
LPRs or Green Card Holders
Lawful permanent residents (LPRs), or green card holders, are NOT permitted to vote, nor register to vote
in United States elections. They are, however, permitted to both volunteer to help with campaigns and to
make financial contributions to those who are running for office. Contributions
are subject to limitations. It is important not to violate
campaign contribution laws.
Since LPRs cannot vote, some may wonder why it would be useful to donate money to political
campaigns. LPRs, as persons who have the right to live and work permanently in the U.S., may choose to
donate money to candidates who have similar positions to themselves on issues that are important to
them, their families, and their respective communities. This, in turn, provides candidates with greater
resources to campaign against those who may have differing points of view and opposing goals.
example, if a candidate is not advocating positive immigration policies and his or her opponent is
advocating such policies, an LPR may choose to make a financial contribution to the campaign of the proimmigration
candidate. LPRs may wish to make such donations, themselves and their own families
benefiting directly from policies reflecting the belief that the greatness of this nation depends on her
immigrant population and all that they offer. The American Immigration Lawyers Association's (AILA's)
Congress and Media Center has information on the various positions or
platforms of each political candidate on a variety of issues. This may help individuals to decide whether
they want to contribute to a particular campaign.
Obviously, immigration is not the only issue of importance to immigrants. Many are also business owners
and may choose to support candidates who will create a favorable business environment. Many
permanent residents have concerns about education, the environment, crime, and taxes, just like their
U.S. citizen neighbors. Their involvement in the political process, by contributing and working on
campaigns, will likely heighten their interest in politics. Even though permanent residents cannot vote
today, they will have both the privilege and the responsibility to vote should they one day become U.S.
United States citizens, whether naturalized or by birth, are permitted to vote and to donate time and
money to political candidates, subject to the donation limit explained on the FEC WebSite. In most states,
however, there is a deadline before Election Day by which one must register in order to vote in the next
election. Therefore, if one becomes a citizen after the registration deadline for the state in which s/he
resides, it may not be possible to vote in the November 2, 2004 elections. Those who do have the
privilege of voting should take time to understand the positions of the candidates who will appear on the
ballots in their areas, to make informed decisions before casting their votes. United States citizens may
also choose to donate to their preferred political party or even to campaigns in other areas of the country
where they are not eligible to vote, if they desire to support a particular, key candidate. The AILA
Congress and Media Center, described above, can also provide valuable information for this purpose.
It is important to take part in the democratic process to the extent allowed by law. We should not complain
about the status of things if we are unwilling to get involved and work for our beliefs or the candidates
who support them. It is equally important not to violate any election laws. Non-U.S. citizens must
absolutely NOT misrepresent themselves to be citizens by voting in elections. This is a serious violation of
immigration law which could have permanent adverse consequences on one's ability to obtain any future
immigration benefits, including naturalization. Therefore, before taking any action in the election process,
be certain you understand the applicable laws and the limitations.
This article originally appeared in the October 1, 2004 issue of Murthy Bulletin on MurthyDotCom. Reprinted with permission.
About The Author
Sheela Murthy is the founder of the Law Office of Sheela Murthy, P.C. which consists of over 45 full time attorneys, paralegals, and support staff, who provide excellent service in the area of U.S. Immigration Law to clients worldwide. The Office of Sheela Murthy, P.C. handles cases ranging from Fortune 500 companies, mid-sized and small companies, to individuals who are undergoing the U.S. immigration process. A graduate of Harvard Law School with an LL.M degree and herself an immigrant, Attorney Murthy understands the complexities of immigration and empathizes with those faced with its challenges.
The opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the opinion of ILW.COM.
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