Leaders create more leaders, not followers. The Dallas city’s boards and commissions should be open to all of our residents, including those that are not U.S. citizens. Every resident of our city should have the opportunity to lead in their community, specifically when those decisions affect everyone.
During the municipal election on May 1st, we have the opportunity to vote yes for two propositions that would change our city’s charter and allow all Dallas residents, regardless of citizenship status to serve their communities. Approving propositions A and B would remove the language “qualified voter” and “qualified taxpayer.”
Removing “qualified voter” and “qualified taxpayer” is not an issue of politics. It is an issue of civic engagement and representation.
With over 50 boards and commissions, non-citizens are affected by the decisions made in these positions. For example, the Park and Recreation Board has oversight of the Dallas Park and Recreation Department, which has a mission to enhance the quality of life of citizens by providing leisure, cultural and educational services while preserving, conserving, and promoting our natural and physical resources. There are 397 parks, 7 lakes, 4,658 surface acres of water, and over 160 developed trail miles in our city. It is evident that non-citizen residents are impacted by the expansiveness of these boards and commissions.
In Dallas, 25% of residents are foreign-born, from Latin America, Asia, Africa, and Europe. Of these, 75% are non-naturalized citizens. Although unclear how many are legal permanent residents, DACA recipients, or have no legal status, it is evident that our city is diverse. We should remove exclusionary language and allow all who live in the city and also pay taxes to serve on our boards and commissions.
The critics might say that they should become citizens first. Yet, even with a path to citizenship, our broken immigration system places people in a waiting line of an average of 10 years. Despite status, immigrants are here now and contribute an average of $32.2 billion in Texas taxes each year.
Immigrant stakes are high in our city as non-citizens pay taxes, such as property taxes, have children in our public schools, and own and operate businesses. Immigrants contribute a significant share to local sales and excise taxes when purchasing goods and services. Despite lacking legal status, at least half are paying income taxes, and all pay sales tax.
The City of Dallas became a certified welcoming city in 2019, almost three years after establishing the Dallas Office of Welcoming Communities and Immigrant Affairs (WCIA) and a long process that demonstrates a deep commitment to all people. I know first-hand because I continue to serve as a WCIA task force member and now have joined the Coalition for a Strong Inclusive Dallas to ensure that our boards and commissions select the community members that are the best fit for the role and have the desire to serve.
“Dallas has a global economy and a vibrant culture highlighted by our diverse communities. We absolutely will leverage these assets to further grow our economy and advance inclusion in our city,” said Mayor Johnson when Dallas became a welcoming city.
The Dallas Federal Reserve mentions in a recent report that the economy and the workforce growth can only expand with immigrants as leaders in the labor force and productivity. It is evident that our economy cannot and will not survive if immigrants are not a part of the plan.
In April 2020, the City Council voted to allow all Dallas residents to serve on city boards and commissions, despite their status as a “qualified voter” or U.S. citizen. This vote was a step towards a strong, inclusive Dallas. However, the city charter controls the Parks & Recreation Board, Redistricting Commission, and Zoning Commission. Therefore, Dallas voters must approve the amendments via a ballot measure. The council voted on February 10th, 2021, and this will go to the voters.
Shortly after, on March 24th, 2021, our Dallas Mayor and City Council unanimously passed a resolution that promotes racial equity in the city policies and spending. The equity indicators report developed in 2019. This report states whites are overrepresented on city boards and commissions. Indicator 38 shows us that the ratio between the proportional representation of White and Hispanic residents is 2.23 to 0.31. Black (0.83) and Asian residents (0.81) are underrepresented at similar rates. We are falling short of the goal that diversity in government increases its ability to serve residents of all backgrounds and experiences and leads to more equitable policy outcomes for represented groups.
By approving the amendments, we have the chance to reflect the interests and contributions of people of all races, ethnicities, ages, sexes, gender identities, sexual orientations, and disabilities, regardless of legal status, and allow new leaders to emerge.
City boards and commissions are composed of mainly white residents. We need to elect and appoint more BIPOC and women.
Vote YES on Props A and B and solidify Dallas’ place as a pioneer city in strength and inclusiveness with the most competent, knowledgeable individuals serving their respective communities. Only this way can we boast that we are a welcoming city and a global economy.
Prisma Y. Garcia is a community member of the Pleasant Grove neighborhood and the Director of Capacity Building at Social Venture Partners Dallas. She is a social impact professional and Public Voices Fellow of The OpEd Project.