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Immigrants Hesitant To Exercise Voting Rights In SF School Board Elections

SAN FRANCISCO (KPIX) -- A plan in San Francisco to let people who are not U.S. citizens vote in school board elections isn't getting off to a great start.

The idea was that immigrants -- both legal and illegal -- should get a say in picking the leaders who affect their kids' education. However, there is hardly a push to register to vote.

July 16 was the first day that non-U.S. citizens could register to vote in school board elections in San Francisco. Since then, only one person has taken advantage of the new law and immigrant right activists said that this has everything to do with the current political climate.

"Unfortunately, Donald Trump has waged war on our immigrant communities and we want to be cautious," said Assemblymember David Chiu (D-S.F.).

Chiu tried to give parents who aren't U.S. citizens the right to vote in San Francisco school board elections back in 2004. He tried again in 2010 but that push also failed. Voters finally passed it in 2016 but Chiu said that it was terrible timing.

"On the same day San Franciscans approved giving immigrant parents the right to vote in school board elections, Donald Trump was elected," he said.

It's a sentiment of fear that keeps immigrants from taking advantage of the new law. "It's simply fear. Fear of deportation, fear they might lose their status," explained Sam Ruiz of Mission Neighborhood Centers.

Immigrant rights activists said they're meeting with families to make sure people know their rights.

On the city's website, it specifically says that ICE may be able to obtain information about one's legal status if they register.

Norma Garcia with the Mission Economic Development Agency said that legal residents who aren't citizens should feel comfortable registering.

"Parents want to be able to fully participate in their children's education. They want to be able to pick the decision makers who are sensitive to the needs in their community," said Garcia.

The legislation, known as Proposition N, sunsets in 2022 but Garcia said that advocates won't let this idea die.

"We'll be back. We'll be back to hit the refresh button on that and we may find ourselves in a very different political environment then. As I've said many times, good ideas don't go away. They just wait for the right time," she said.

Garcia also said she expects that, with some education and outreach, the current numbers for those who will register to vote will increase by the end of October.

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