Amendment Accepted To Allow Non-Citizen Board Appointments

Dallas City Hall | Image by halbergman/Getty Images

On Tuesday, members of the Charter Review Commission accepted a proposed amendment to allow residents who are not U.S. citizens to represent the Dallas City Council on committees, boards, and commissions.

Dallas City Council member Jesse Moreno of District 2, who was not in attendance for the April 2 meeting, had previously proposed “changing wording in the charter to be more inclusive, using ‘resident’ or ‘people’ in place of ‘citizen.’”

“I’ve been thinking about these amendments that have been dealing with making our city charter more inclusive beyond qualified taxpaying citizens, registered voters, and all these instances where we see this in the charter,” Commissioner David de la Fuente (District 1) said. “It’s an area that, given my own personal history, given the district I represent, these instances [where the word ‘citizens’ is used] in the charter don’t sit 100% right with me.”

The word “citizen” is used interchangeably across multiple forums in municipal and other governments, and among taxpayers. Generally, it colloquially describes someone who is a resident of a place, such as Dallas or Dallas County. In reality, “citizen” as a legal term is reserved to describe those persons who are legal residents of the U.S.

Fuente noted that “the way agenda item J, amendment 1 is currently written … I would be proud to put my name on it, and I would be proud to tell the public I support this.”

“That being said, I don’t think the public is going to go for it the way it is written,” he said, noting that changing the word “citizen” across the board in the charter would be difficult to sell to constituents.

Instead, he suggested that this change only be applied in some sections.

“I think there are areas in the Charter where changing to the word ‘people’ or ‘persons’ as opposed to … ‘citizens’ makes sense,” he said.

Fuente gave the example of the Fire Rescue Department, noting that “Fire Rescue has to take all necessary measures to protect the City and the property of its now ‘residents’ as opposed to ‘citizens’ from destruction by fire or conflagration.” He also noted that this is an area where the word ‘resident’ makes a lot of sense, as a fireman would not ask about “people’s citizenship status as their house is burning down.”

Other sections, the commissioner said, could be worded differently: “… I would make a motion to amend agenda item J in two specific areas. Specifically, section 1, ‘organization of civil service,’ and section 10, ‘citizens given preference in letting on contracts.’”

He suggested deciding on a “potential new standard” term for use in these sections.

“In these areas where it is a little bit more of a privilege than a right to serve on these boards or commissions, maybe language along the lines of ‘citizens and authorized residents of the United States who are residents of Dallas,’” Fuente said.

He explained the implication behind the specific words chosen.

“The problem I’m trying to solve is a political problem,” the commissioner said. “It’s not a policy problem. It’s not a legal problem. It’s just admitting that … the median voter … in Dallas right now is one that views citizens and authorized residents as worthy of service on civil service [sic] and in preference of letting of contracts.”

“An authorized resident in the United States would be a non-citizen who has legal and lawful protections in entry into this country. So, think of a green card holder, think of someone with a work visa, think of someone with DACA protections,” added Fuente.

The main motion, as amended by Fuente, was approved.

Every 10 years, the Charter Review Commission votes to include or exclude proposed amendments for consideration by Dallas City Council members, who then must decide whether to place any or all of them — as recommended or modified — on the ballot for voters to approve or disapprove. Election day is November 5.

American voters have long questioned non-citizens’ participation in government. In March, the U.S. Senate rejected a bill amendment that would have blocked non-U.S. citizens from being counted when determining how many House seats and Electoral College votes each state receives, The Dallas Express reported.

Although referring to the issue on a national scale, Lora Ries, director of the Heritage Foundation’s Border Security and Immigration Center, previously said that debate ensuring non-citizens are not allowed to influence votes is “critical in making sure that American citizens … are picking America’s leaders.”

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