July 23, 2021
Press Release
  • Other

Redistricting Commissioner Bill Leone suggested non-U.S. citizens should not be counted in redistricting proceedings due to their resident status

DENVER, CO — Wednesday evening, while responding to witness testimony, Congressional Redistricting Commissioner Bill Leone asked if undocumented workers should be reallocated due to their resident status.

The Colorado Immigrant Rights Coalition is shocked by Leone’s dismissal of the critical roles many undocumented people play in their local communities, and the ways they –– like all those in their district –– will be impacted by redistricting.

The comments in question occurred during a Joint Independent Redistricting Commission meeting for Colorado District 1 in Englewood, Colo. Witness Christie Donner, Executive Director of the Colorado Criminal Justice Reform Coalition, testified regarding having prison populations be included in their home districts rather than the district of the facility where they are incarcerated. Commissioner Leone hijacked Donner’s testimony to say that the same principle should be applied to undocumented workers and students.

Donner testified that “people who are in prison actually have homes and have home communities” that they contribute to outside of their imprisonment. Commissioner Leone accused Donner of wanting to manipulate census data in order to count prisoners as residents in the towns they call home. He followed up to ask “should [the Redistricting Committee] deviate from the census data to reallocate undocumented workers because they are not permanently residing in the community?”

Commissioner Leone’s notion that undocumented workers are as little integrated into their local communities as incarcerated people sent to a facility several towns away from anyone they know is unacceptable. Equally appalling is his implication that non-U.S. citizens do not deserve representation.

Elected officials have a duty to represent everyone in their district––not just the people who voted for them or who are citizens. Leone’s comments to the contrary demonstrate an alarming lack of concern for the interests of residents of Colorado who belong to underrepresented groups during the redistricting process. We need redistricting measures that equitably represent Colorado’s incarcerated and undocumented populations as members of the communities in which they have built a life.

“Colorado has recognized that immigrants of all statuses are integral parts of our community through its policies and actions at the highest levels,” says CIRC Executive Director Lisa Durán. “This year, we passed a dozen bills aimed to protect the dignity and human rights of the immigrants who call our state home.”

Like other groups that are ineligible to vote, including children and convicted felons, non-U.S. citizens are entitled to political representation. Non-U.S. citizens are “persons” under the Constitution and are entitled to protection under our laws. They also can be civically engaged through participating in public hearings, meeting with elected representatives, and other similar actions.

Most non-citizens are or will become eligible to naturalize due to time as a lawful permanent resident. Participation in civic activity can be an important precursor to full and engaged participation once a noncitizen becomes a citizen through naturalization.

Commissioner Leone’s apparent ignorance of these facts and key communities in the state is an alarming example of the additional work commissioners need to do to draw fair maps that are representative of all Colorado communities. The redistricting commission cannot hope to fulfill its constitutional obligation to consider the needs of “communities of interest” such as these without first gaining an adequate understanding of these communities.

We therefore urge that this Commission proactively seek testimony from communities of color and immigrant communities to ensure an equitable redistricting process. Only through this can the Commission ensure that Leone’s ignorant comments do not guide its values or decision-making process.