OneAmerica believes that our democracy and society are stronger when everyone is engaged in civic and democratic life and is able to have their voice heard, particularly those furthest from power who are closest to the solutions. Because immigrants across Washington stood up, our state has made incredible progress in becoming a welcoming place for immigrants and refugees. Sometimes that work can feel like two steps forward and one step back. All too often our legislators pass policies that, often unknowingly, don’t consider the needs of our communities.
Unfortunately, we took just such a step back with a law enacted earlier this year that restricts the political speech of immigrants and refugees living in Washington State, including long-time residents, workers, parents and families who have a real stake in the outcome of Washington’s state and local elections.
How did this happen? Senate Bill 6152 was intended to prevent foreign nationals (institutions and foreign governments) from interfering in Washington State elections. Unfortunately, this law is now restricting the free speech and engagement of hundreds of thousands of residents of this state who are friends, family, and neighbors.
For OneAmerica Votes and OneAmerica, there are community members who serve on our Boards and governing bodies who could be forced to step down or recuse themselves from decisions made by the organizations to engage in candidate endorsements, contributions and ballot measures. That’s why we’re filing suit – to make sure immigrants are able to continue exercising their voice.
One of those people is OneAmerica board member Mudit Kakar. A citizen of India, Kakar has lived in Washington since 2008. He graduated from the University of Washington School of Law in 2011 and is a practicing attorney in the state. Mudit joined the lawsuit as a plaintiff because he’s worried that if SB 6152 is upheld, immigrants, refugees, and other non-U.S. citizens will be barred from advocating for their own well-being.
“You can’t participate in civic engagement that is actually meant for your own rights,” he said. “I don’t get to decide who gets money for what, but as a board, we routinely vote on motions like whether to support a ballot initiative or not,” Kakar told the Seattle Emerald. “This law as it’s written, it creates this whole issue of I don’t know if I’m unknowingly breaking the law.”
“I don’t believe the legislature intended to restrict the political free speech of immigrants and refugees,” said OneAmerica’s Executive Director Rich Stolz. “That would be a serious over-reach and fundamental violation of the rights and privileges that belong to any resident of Washington State. Too often legislation is written and enacted without thought to the impact on communities who have the most at stake in their implementation.”
“Washington State has a stake in ensuring that parents, essential workers and community members civically engage in their communities and shape the institutions and policies that shape their lives and communities. That’s the start of good public policy and a healthy democracy. And we’ll do everything we can to ensure that the voices of our members will be heard, beginning with this suit to prevent further implementation of this flawed law.”