A group photo of the Immigrant Parent Voting Collaborative, which includes many Asian and Latina women.
The Immigrant Parent Voting Collaborative at a 2019 event.

On Tuesday, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors unanimously passed the Immigrant Parent Voting Ordinance in a historic win that makes non-citizen voting permanent in Board of Education elections. As a co-founding organization of the Immigrant Parent Voting Collaborative, as well as a longtime advocate for Chinese immigrants, CAA is thrilled that immigrant families will continue to be heard in matters concerning their school-age children. 

For decades, CAA has championed the right of non-citizens to have a say at the ballot box in their children’s education. In 2016, CAA was a leading proponent of Proposition N, the Charter amendment that made San Francisco the largest city in the United States to give immigrant parents the right to vote. Prop N was the culmination of a 15-year effort. Since then, immigrant parents have voted in three Board of Education elections. 

Proposition N was set to expire next year. The new ordinance makes the right for immigrant parents to vote permanent, guaranteeing better representation for the 16,900 English language learners (including 6,000 Chinese speakers) in the San Francisco Unified School District. English language learners account for 27.7% of the student population, and Census data shows that over 34% of San Francisco residents are immigrants.

“I had no prior knowledge of the U.S. education system until my participation with non-citizen voting,” said CAA Outreach Specialist Joyce Li, whose two children attend SFUSD. “Since the campaign in 2016, I have learned to be actively involved at school meetings, to express my own concerns and suggestions, to enhance my self-confidence, and to effectively communicate with others in this space. Non-citizen parents have an essential role and voice that represents a large portion of the student population in the SFUSD.” 

CAA’s defense of immigrants in the education sphere dates back to 1974, when we represented the plaintiffs in Lau v. Nichols, a historic case in which the U.S. Supreme Court guaranteed access to equal public education for non-English speaking and limited-English proficient children in the U.S. Since then, our organization has joined forces with community leaders and elected officials representing a broad spectrum of immigrant communities to advocate for fair and equitable school admissions, improved language access, and more comprehensive safety measures in San Francisco public schools.

With the passage of the Immigrant Parent Voting Ordinance, San Francisco serves as a progressive model for civic engagement in immigrant communities throughout the United States — especially during a time when voting rights across the country are under attack. CAA has provided support to other jurisdictions interested in immigrant parent voting and intends for the ordinance to become a model for others. 

The ordinance now heads to Mayor London Breed for approval. Parents will be able to vote as soon as next February during the upcoming Board of Education recall election. Community members can visit the San Francisco Department of Elections website to learn about their eligibility to vote. 

“All SFUSD students, regardless of their family’s immigration status, deserve to have their needs advocated for by the Board of Education. A vote equals a voice for parents,” said CAA Policy Manager Eva Poon. “CAA is proud to have been part of this decades-long community-led effort to empower immigrant families in San Francisco. Moving forward our work will ensure that immigrant families know about and can exercise their newly permanent voting right.”