Civil Rights Groups Sue Mississippi Secretary of State to Stop Proof of Citizenship Requirement for Naturalized Citizens

WASHINGTON, D.C. –  Today, the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, together with the Mississippi Center for Justice, the Law Office of Robert McDuff, and law firm Manatt, Phelps & Phillips, LLP, filed a lawsuit on behalf of the Mississippi Immigrants Rights Alliance against Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann over Mississippi’s discriminatory and unlawful proof of citizenship requirement for naturalized citizens.  The suit alleges that the requirement, which does not apply to U.S.-born citizens, violates the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment and burdens naturalized citizens’ fundamental right to vote.

“Mississippi’s discriminatory proof of citizenship requirement, which dates back to the Jim Crow era, constitutes a textbook violation of the United States Constitution,” said Kristen Clarke, president and executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee.  “Our democracy only works when every legitimate voter can exercise their fundamental right to cast a ballot that counts.   This is yet another unfortunate example of how Mississippi’s antiquated voting laws and procedures hurt people of color.”

“An important part of our work of MIRA involves helping applicants complete the naturalization process – and with registering to vote.  We help folks with their applications, interviews, obtaining approvals, and navigating bureaucratic hurdles through the swearing-in ceremony and beyond.  There is no reason to treat naturalized citizens any differently than other citizens.  This law is grounded in white supremacy, xenophobia and racism and should therefore be abolished,” said Bill Chandler, Executive Director of MIRA.

Mississippi law requires that all naturalized citizens present a naturalization certificate (or a certified copy) or court order to register to vote.  U.S.-born citizens, however, face no such requirement – they merely check a box on the voter registration application affirming they are a U.S. citizen.  Mississippi’s law is the only registration requirement in the nation that applies only to naturalized citizens.  The requirement was enacted in the 1920s, prior to the passage of the Voting Rights Act, and therefore was never subject to preclearance by the Department of Justice.

Data from the United States Census Bureau indicates that Mississippi’s naturalized citizen population has increased by more than 50 percent between 2000 (roughly 16,000 per the decennial census) and 2015 (roughly 26,000 per the 2013-2017 American Community Survey, which has a midpoint of 2015).  Mississippi’s naturalized citizen population is predominantly non-white.  Of the approximately 26,000 naturalized citizens in Mississippi according to the 2013-2017 ACS, about 12,000 were born in Asia, 8,000 were born in Latin America, 4,000 were born in Europe, and 1,500 were born in Africa.

“Naturalized citizens work hard for the right to vote in their adopted country,” said Beth Orlansky, Advocacy Director for the Mississippi Center for Justice.  “We cannot treat them like second class citizens by imposing additional requirements on them in the registration process.  This practice of the embedded power structure to inhibit people of color from voting must be stopped.”

“We are honored to work alongside our pro bono partners to protect this fundamental right granted to all U.S. citizens,” said Ronald Turovsky, partner with Manatt, Phelps & Phillips, LLP.

Mississippi Immigrants Rights Alliance has long assisted Mississippi immigrants with navigating the naturalization process and register to vote.  The organization is focused on assisting Mississippi’s immigrant communities, which are still reeling from brutal U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement raids conducted in poultry plants throughout Mississippi this past August.

The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law filed its lawsuit today along with its partners including the Mississippi Center for Justice, the Law Office of Robert McDuff, and pro bono law firm Manatt, Phelps & Phillips, LLP on behalf of the Misssissippi Immigrants Rights Alliance.  The suit was filed in the Jackson Division of the United States District Court for the Southern District of Mississippi.

Voters with questions about how to register to vote and voter registration requirements can contact Election Protection, a non-partisan voter protection program led by the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, at 866-OUR-VOTE.

To read the full complaint, please click here.