Nonpartisan Voter Reg Group Sues Homeland Security, City of Miami Beach over Denial of Access to New Citizens

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: September 15, 2004

Contact: Peter Montgomery at People For the American Way Foundation

Email: [email protected]

Phone Number: 202-467-4999

Seeks Federal Court Injunction to Protect Use of Public Sidewalks to Register New Citizens Outside Sept. 17 Induction Ceremony

Miami Beach, FL – Mi Familia Vota (MFV), a nonpartisan voter registration effort committed to empowering Hispanic citizens, went to federal court on Wednesday to prevent the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and the City of Miami Beach from forcing people registering new voters off of public sidewalks just outside the Miami Beach Convention Center during naturalization ceremonies scheduled for Friday, September 17.

The suit, filed in federal district court in Miami, asks for an injunction that would prevent the Department of Homeland Security and the City of Miami Beach from continuing to bar Mi Familia Vota participants from the sidewalk they had used for months until Homeland Security officials objected in August. Co-counsel in the case are Ben Kuehne of Sale & Kuehne, P.A. and Elliot Mincberg of People For the American Way Foundation.

“We’ve been able to register new citizens to vote in that location for months. Now, the Department of Homeland Security and the City of Miami Beach are pushing us out with no real explanation,” said MFV National Director Jorge Mursuli. “Blocking a nonpartisan civic participation project is a lousy example to set for new citizens. It makes no sense for Homeland Security to throw up these roadblocks. And it makes no sense for the City of Miami Beach to sacrifice citizens’ First Amendment rights.”

The dispute began August 10, when John C. Shewairy, Chief of Staff to the District Director of Homeland Security, notified Mi Familia Vota representatives that they would no longer have access to sidewalks in front of the convention center. (U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, the successor agency to the Immigration and Naturalization Service, is a bureau of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.) At the time, Shewairy told MFV the move was required because of problems that arose in Jacksonville earlier this summer when a group of Republican activists provided newly naturalized citizens with registration forms with the party affiliation already checked off as Republican.

Although it made no sense to punish Mi Familia Vota, a nonpartisan organization, for the actions of others, Mi Familia Vota tried to resolve the issue without litigation. But an August 23 letter to Sehwairy was never answered. And in a meeting on Tuesday, September 14, city officials told Mursuli that Mi Familia Vota would be denied access to the public sidewalks in front of the convention center on September 17 at the request of Homeland Security.

“What possible security risk can there be in helping new citizens exercise their most basic rights?” asked Mursuli. “The Department of Homeland Security has no business interfering with democracy.”

Mi Familia Vota is a project of the Center for Immigrant Democracy carried out in conjunction with People For the American Way Foundation.