Q: I have a green card and am very interested in the issues and candidates in the upcoming elections for US Senator, Mayor of Boston, City Council, etc. Am I allowed to take part in any way, or will I get into trouble with the government?
A: First, it is crucial to remember that no one who is not a US citizen may legally vote (or run for office) in US elections. Registering and attempting to do so would be viewed by US immigration authorities as a false claim to US citizenship, which can have dire consequences.
Federal election laws prohibit all financial contributions and expenditures in connection with elections by “foreign nationals,” which includes individuals, governments, corporations, and other organizations.
There is, however, an exception to this blanket prohibition for legal permanent residents, that is, green card holders. They are not considered to be “foreign nationals” for election law purposes in terms of support for candidates. This means that they are in the same position as US citizens in this regard; they are allowed to make contributions and are subject to the same limitations, reporting requirements, etc.
Non-US citizen individuals who do not have green cards are allowed to engage in volunteer political activity by providing personal services in connection with elections. The key limitations are that such activity may not entail financial expenditures by or compensation to the volunteer, and the activity must not relate to fund raising. For example, a volunteer could go door to door urging people to vote for a particular candidate, but could not provide services such as writing a brochure to solicit donations.
The foregoing is a very brief and basic summary of the application of election laws to non-US citizens. Many situations arise where the correct answer is not necessarily clear cut. For further guidance, go to the web site of the Federal Election Commission (FEC) at www.fec.gov and click “quick answers.” Also, the FEC issues advisory opinions in individual cases.
For a free, confidential consultation about any aspect of immigration law, visit one of our weekly legal clinics advertised in The Emigrant.
Disclaimer: These articles are published to inform generally, not to advise in individual cases. Immigration law is always subject to change. The US Citizenship and Immigration Services and US Department of State regularly amend regulations and alter processing and filing procedures. For legal advice seek the assistance of an IIIC immigration specialist or an immigration lawyer.
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