I’m getting my driver’s license; can I register to vote?

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For many years now it has become routine to register to vote while applying for a driver’s license. However, to a non-U.S. citizen, this routine act can derail any future immigration benefits.

Simply registering to vote can be considered a claim of U.S. citizenship. Current immigration law severely penalizes anyone who claims to be a U.S. citizen by making them permanently inadmissible without possibility of a waiver, meaning there is no way to have that claim forgiven.

Because voting participation continues to drop in some parts of the country, states are getting creative in encouraging its residents to vote. As a result, in the last few days, California passed a law that seeks to encourage more participation in elections by automatically registering everyone who obtains or renews a driver’s license.

At this point we do not fully understand what the California law will mean for non-U.S. citizens who apply for a California driver license. Supposedly there will be protections in place to prevent those who are not eligible to get registered to vote, as the law is implemented we’ll see the actual effect it will have on those who should not be automatically registered.  This new law is a good reminder that if you are not a U.S. citizen you should not register to vote when applying for a driver’s license.

There are other ways non-U.S. citizens can claim citizenship: when applying for a job by checking “U.S. citizen” on an I-9 Employment Eligibility Verification form, on a student loan application, or by stating you are a U.S. citizen to receive any benefit only available to U.S. citizens.

If you are unsure you have registered to vote, or if you mistakenly registered to vote there may be some steps you can take to remove your name from the voter registration rolls before taking part in any election. You should consult with an immigration attorney who can further advise you of your options before submitting any application for an immigration benefit because you may no longer be eligible.

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Jorge Gavilanes

Attorney At Law

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