NEW YORK, May 10 (UPI) -- Some 800,000 immigrants would get the right to vote under a New York bill that would make the city the largest to let non-citizens vote in local elections.
The City Council bill, coming amid a contentious U.S. Senate debate over overhauling immigration laws, would let immigrants living in New York City with legal permission for at least six months cast votes for mayor and other municipal offices.
"They contribute to society but are ultimately disenfranchised because they cannot vote," said bill sponsor Democratic Councilman Danny Dromm of the borough of Queens.
Councilman and bill supporter Ydanis Rodriguez of Manhattan, another Democrat, recalled being a Dominican Republic immigrant living in the city for 17 years before becoming a U.S. citizen.
"I worked in the twin towers washing dishes and I paid taxes. I drove a livery cab and I paid taxes," the New York Daily News quoted him as saying.
But Democratic Councilman Peter Vallone of Queens, chairman of the council's Public Safety Committee, said a six-month residency requirement was not long enough.
"Somebody in this country that short of time has no stake in the future of the city or in issues like reducing the deficit," he said, adding he would consider "a much longer time period."
ImmigrationWorks USA, which takes a sometimes-guarded approach to immigration reform, said the proposal "dilutes citizenship."
"Citizenship should mean something and it should have privileges you don't have when you haven't become a citizen yet," group President Tamar Jacoby told the council.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg said he opposed the bill, in part because it violates state law, which requires U.S. citizenship to vote.
"Voting is the most important right we are granted as citizens, and you should have to go through the process of becoming a citizen and declaring allegiance to this country before being given that right," spokeswoman Evelyn Erskine said in a statement.
Bill supporters say the city has a right to determine who can vote in municipal elections.
Seven Maryland towns and villages just north of Washington, D.C., let non-citizens to vote.
The New York measure would face federal review for compliance with the U.S. Voting Rights Act, which outlaws discriminatory voting practices.