Immigrants Deserve a Voice in Government

Here's the opinion piece I sent to the SF Chronicle about why everyone in San Francisco should support Proposition C: 

Thank you to San Francisco Board of Supervisors President Norman Yee and Supervisor Shamann Walton for introducing a City Charter Amendment that will allow non-citizens to serve on boards and commissions in San Francisco, and a big thank you to Sarah Souza and the many other activists leading the charge in advocating for this historic opportunity to embrace the voices of our entire community with Proposition C.

I am an immigrant. I was born overseas and my parents brought me to the United States when I was 12. I spent many years after that learning to hide my accent and fearing societal ridicule and state retribution. It wasn’t until moving to San Francisco that I realized that being born and raised overseas isn’t a liability, but an asset. 

Immigrants have the power to see and understand injustices differently. We can compare and contrast more readily. We know what differences “feel” like. And even our brains are wired differently, depending on the languages we speak. 

Immigrants work hard to build community and we work even harder to make it in American society.We fight against inherent and systemic biases. We contribute into the system more than we take out. And we lift up the next generation so they can have a better chance than we did, because not everyone starts at the same place in this Land of Opportunity.

As an immigrant, I have served our country honorably, I have run for office in San Francisco, and I continue to serve our community while thousands of my non-citizen neighbors cannot. I am currently the President of the Veterans Affairs Commission and Co-Chair of the California Democratic Party Resolutions Committee who was elected by the voters of San Francisco Assembly District 17 to serve in the Democratic Party.

I can tell you, unequivocally, that my ability to serve my community is entirely the outcome of a policy decision like the one before the voters this November.

I was born overseas at a time and place when a policy of the United States government granted me the ability to be a citizen without having me or either one of my parents being born on US soil. I am a dual-citizen of Spain and the US by virtue of derivative citizenship and the Citizenship Act of 1978, like my father before me through the Citizenship Act of 1907.

Those policy decisions began, first and foremost, as a moral imperative to right the wrongs caused by war in a foreign country, and the moral decision to take care of the children of US parents born abroad. But relatively few immigrants have the benefit of these and other Citizenship Acts.

Today, we face a different moral imperative: around 700,000 young people in the US cannot serve the communities in which they live because their parents, like mine, brought them to this country as children to give them a better life. The only difference between me and these 700,000 Americans is deferred action by the US government and a policy that can be changed. And here, in San Francisco, we can start to turn the tide and give thousands of immigrants a voice in government. 

We now have the power to change the policy that prohibits non-citizens from serving our community on boards and commissions. This is our moral imperative and the goal of the courageous local activists leading the change with their stories and immigrant voices: to give everyone in our community a voice in the decision-making progress. 

It’s time to grant non-citizens the ability to serve our community on boards and commissions by voting Yes on Proposition C.

Governor Gavin Newsom signed SB225 into law to allow non-citizens to serve on boards and commissions at the local and state levels, and I hope you will support the San Francisco Charter Amendment on the November ballot to extend that right locally. It is a necessary change to ensure our entire community is better represented and able to serve in San Francisco.

Immigrants - we get the job done!

Victor Mateo Olivieri Cristino