Can/should I call the elected officials if I'm not a U.S. citizen?
November 18, 2016 10:08 PM   Subscribe

I'm a Canadian living in the U.S., and I've been outraged/horrified by the White House staffing decisions. Since I'm not a citizen, I obviously didn't vote - so, can I call "my elected officials" to give my opinion and denounce these decisions? Should I?

Obviously I *can* do this, but will my opinion matter if I'm not a voter? I think it's ethically dubious to not mention that I'm not American, since presumably calls/letters to officials are meant to be a barometer of the electorate.

I'm seeking out volunteer opportunities and other ways to potentially "make a difference", but I'd like some input on whether calling/writing senators/governors/etc. is a useful exercise for a legal non-resident alien.
posted by anonymous to Law & Government (18 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
You're a constituent, even if you can't vote. Do you you talk to your friends and family about politics? Do you ever intend to become a citizen/voter? Then your voicd matters. I highly doubt that they run every letter through voter roles to confirm citizenship.
posted by honeybee413 at 10:25 PM on November 18, 2016 [2 favorites]

Your representatives represent all people living in their constituency, regardless of whether they can vote. The Supreme Court recently rejected a claim that only eligible voters make up a voting district. Call and write in good faith.
posted by lazuli at 10:27 PM on November 18, 2016 [12 favorites]

The Senate confirms presidental appointments, Confirmations are by simple majority. Republicans will control the Senate, but they're not all of the same mind, so contact Republican Senators.
posted by Homer42 at 11:03 PM on November 18, 2016

This doesn't totally answer your question, but I'm going to refer you to this comment I wrote in one of the post-election threads.

I totally understand your reservations, for what it's worth. (I had similar doubts about calling representatives from other states.) But I would argue not only that your voice matters as someone who will be affected by the actions taken by your district/state's representatives, but that in fact, you may have more of a reason to call than the rest of us, since you can't vote and it's the only way to make your voice heard on issues that will affect you.
posted by sunset in snow country at 11:57 PM on November 18, 2016 [1 favorite]

Oh, and I should add that I do not think it is ethically dubious not to mention that you're not American. Hopefully someone will come along with a better justification for it than my general gut feeling. I can only say that not standing up against white supremacy in the president's cabinet seems far more ethically dubious to me than calling as a resident of a representative's state or district and not giving any more info than that.
posted by sunset in snow country at 12:01 AM on November 19, 2016

Just to add anecdote, I know of many cases when non-US citizens have requested and received constituent services from their US representative. In at least one case, the requester wasn't even a temporary US resident but simply somebody who vacationed in the representative's district, and still received enthusiastic advocacy from the representative's office. So yes, you can still expect representation despite not being a legal voter. I would call, identify yourself as a constituent or a resident of the voting district, and be open about your citizenship if it happens to come up.
posted by exutima at 12:37 AM on November 19, 2016 [1 favorite]

They're supposed to represent everybody in their constituency, not just voters or citizens. This isn't meant to be a scientific poll; it's political speech and you have every right to that.

Nobody's going to ask you about your status unless you bring it up yourself. Some offices will ask for your contact information (address or email address usually) so that they can send you a form letter as a response, but that's the extent of it. Congressional staffers do not, in my experience, actually want any more information from you than a thumbs up or a thumbs down on whatever you're calling about.

Call 'em. It's a whole hell of a lot better than sitting on your hands because you think it's improper to speak up.
posted by lemonadeheretic at 1:08 AM on November 19, 2016 [1 favorite]

posted by jbenben at 1:31 AM on November 19, 2016

You are absolutely 100% a constituent of the elected officials who represent the community you live in. Citizenship has nothing to do with it. I know many cases where immigrants have lobbied or gotten assistance from their representatives. Please do call them.
posted by lunasol at 2:52 AM on November 19, 2016 [5 favorites]

You are absolutely 100% a constituent of the elected officials who represent the community you live in. Citizenship has nothing to do with it.

Exactly. If it helps, think of children who do not vote and are encouraged to talk to the reps for their district to effect change. I am not saying you are a child, but anyone and everyone in the district is represented. You are a potential voter, and you are a resident, and you are a human. Any of those should be enough, in this country, to answer yes to this question.
posted by jessamyn at 5:44 AM on November 19, 2016 [1 favorite]

Lobbying is protected free speech. You can certainly call reps for your district.
posted by jpe at 8:24 AM on November 19, 2016

I sort of relate to your feeling that this is somehow off. With that said, how I've drawn this line for myself is to call (1) any representatives of any part of my city of residence, even if not in my district; (2) Paul Ryan specifically, because his position as Speaker means he really does have national influence and he SHOULD care what everyone thinks, not just his constituents; and (3) committees, because again, even if I don't have a representative serving, they have national impact and thereby serve all of us.

I also have made it a point to start calling and thanking my representatives (same broad definition as above). It may not be as impactful as asking for something, but it still seems really important.

Nb: I have not yet found something to thank Paul Ryan for. When/if it happens, however, I will.
posted by mchorn at 8:57 AM on November 19, 2016

You could also play up your Canadianness. "I was recruited to come live in this great country because of my special talents and blah blah blah. I've been considering the process of becoming a citizen, but I've become increasingly concerned about ... conclusion, you don't want to piss off a Canadian because everyone knows we are bad motherfuckers who hold grudges."

(Maybe skip the last part, since it's implied)
posted by Slarty Bartfast at 9:30 AM on November 19, 2016 [1 favorite]

I don't see that you have any ethical obligation to mention your citizenship.

If you're horrified, say you're horrified. If you think this will negatively impact you, say that. It's not like American leadership is not allowed to listen to concerns from non-citizens, and there's no law requiring non-citizens to refrain from expressing their views to American leaders. If a leader is interested in ignoring the opinions of non-voters, then they're free to do that.

Just don't lie if they ask about your citizenship.
posted by Salvor Hardin at 9:31 AM on November 19, 2016

Nthing that "your elected officials" means the officials who represent the district where you reside, not the officials you voted for. As a resident of the US, they represent you.

I've never been asked about citizenship details when calling representatives.

The idea that politicians only represent citizens and not un-naturalized immigrants is a toxic one that leads to a lot of horrendous political outcomes.
posted by Sara C. at 11:36 AM on November 19, 2016

Please don't. I used to work in a Congressional office. Our instructions were to help people who lived in our district who weren't voters with things like naturalization, visas, and such, but if you aren't an eligible voter in our district who wants to offer their opinion on legislation, I will listen to you politely on the phone, but my instructions are to not record your call. In fact, the computer requires I fill in your voter information before I can log it.
posted by flimflam at 4:15 PM on November 19, 2016

As US resident I have been donating money to political campaigns and writing to congress people for years. I have never been asked for my voter's information. If they ever do, I'll send them copy of my taxes which I believe entitle me to be heard.
posted by 3dd at 4:54 PM on November 19, 2016

Even if flimflam is correct, the worst thing that could happen is that they ask for your voter information and then you know. They're not going to swear at you or tell you to go back to Canada or anything.
posted by Sara C. at 6:54 PM on November 19, 2016

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