S.F. supes flunk citizenship

Posted: Jul 19, 2004 12:00 AM

 San Francisco has become a city devoted to expanding the meaning of all categories until none has meaning.

 Citizen? Today, that term describes Americans who can register to vote and serve on juries. But if a measure before the Board of Supervisors is approved by city voters and becomes law, it will render the term "citizen" but an antiquated notion in San Francisco.

 The measure, introduced by Board of Supervisors President Matt Gonzalez, would allow S.F. residents with children in public schools to vote in the school-board election. While supporters say this is a narrow measure designed to increase parental involvement in public schools, there is every reason to believe it is the latest salvo in the far left's push to blur any distinction between citizens and non-citizens, as well as between illegal immigrants and legal immigrants.

 It doesn't matter if the state Constitution requires voters to be citizens over the age of 18. When the Special City doesn't like a law, it ignores it.

 California State Assemblyman Leland Yee, D-San Francisco, told the San Francisco Chronicle that he supports the measure because his mother, who didn't pass the citizenship test and thus couldn't vote, should have had a say in school-board politics. As he put it by phone Thursday, the demands of raising a family and making ends meet kept his mother from passing the test, but that shouldn't keep her from voting for school-board members. Yee added, "It seems to me that we should try to find ways to help parents be more engaged."

 Did the law keep her from volunteering in school politics? No, he answered. She "helped my campaign for school board. But realize it is one thing to be involved in a campaign, it's another to actually vote."

 I'm sorry she didn't pass the test. But I don't buy Yee's contention that the city can expand voting to non-citizen parents of public-school children, and stop there. As Supervisor Fiona Ma noted in a press statement, "This would open a Pandora's box of issues -- will we allow non-citizens who ride BART to vote in BART-board elections or non-citizen home owners to vote in bond measures?"

 Yee also argued that he believed in granting the school-board vote to "documented individuals." Nice try, but Yee can't run away from the fact that the Gonzalez measure doesn't distinguish between legal and illegal. As a supporter of the measure told me, it was too much of an administrative challenge to ask poll workers to determine legal residence. Also, there was little interest in distinguishing between "undocumented parents of citizen children" and other parents.

 Steven Camarota of the Center for Immigration Studies called that "an enormous slap in the face to people who play by the rules, who come legally and become citizens." Why bother if people who flout the rules can vote?

 A Gonzalez statement claims that it takes too long for immigrant parents to become Americans: "Due to government red tape and a long INS (Immigration and Naturalization Service) backlog, immigrants must wait an average of 10 years to become citizens."

 Really? Sharon Rummery of Immigration and Customs Enforcement said that while immigrants must be permanent residents for five years to apply for citizenship -- only three years if they're married to a U.S. citizen -- it now takes eight months after application to become a citizen. The process is designed to teach new Americans about how and why democracy works.

 "Why have citizenship at all?" former California Secretary of State Bill Jones asked. "Citizenship is the rite of passage to become an American," Jones added. Immigrants who "don't become Americans, they're just an extension of the country they come from."

 Maybe city politicians don't care whether the new voters consider themselves American.

 A Gonzalez press release quotes an immigrant mother of two who complains that it is "unfair" to make immigrant parents wait "10 years" to become citizens.

 It is unfair. It's also unfair that some people are born American, and others are not. It's unfair some are born rich, and others are not. It's unfair some are born beautiful, while others are not.

 The present immigration system isn't perfect, but it is designed to allow a fair number of immigrants into the United States in as fair a way as possible. The system is designed to produce new citizens with an understanding and affection for their adopted country.

 The Gonzalez measure, however, is designed to undercut that goal by rewarding immigrants who break the law with the right to vote. It is as if San Francisco City Hall set out to teach contempt for the law to America's newest would-be citizens.