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  1. #1
    Senior Member Beezer's Avatar
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    Apr 2016

    Texas woman sentenced to eight years for illegal voting paroled, now faces deportatio

    Texas woman sentenced to eight years for illegal voting paroled, now faces deportation

    Gus Garcia-Roberts, USA TODAY
    9 hrs ago

    © Texas Department of Criminal Justice Rosa Maria Ortega in an undated mug shot.
    In 2017, Rosa Maria Ortega's eight-year prison sentence for
    illegal voting in Texas divided the country along political fault lines and made her the unwitting poster child of an alleged voter fraud epidemic that dominated headlines and a newly-elected president's tweets — despite no evidence that it was actually occurring.

    Last December, with the country's attention elsewhere, Ortega was quietly granted parole after serving just over nine months.

    She now faces a more permanent punishment: The 40-year-old mother of four teenagers, who first came to the United States as a baby and
    lived here legally with a green card, is the target of deportation proceedings to her native country of Mexico.

    After being paroled, Ortega spent nearly two more months in the custody of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). She was freed on bond by an immigration judge last month. The U.S. Department of Justice office that handles immigration proceedings did not respond to a request Thursday for information on her case, including when she is next due to appear in court.

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    Efforts to reach Ortega and members of her family were unsuccessful, and her former lawyers said they have also lost contact with her.

    Professor Jean Reisz, of the University of Southern California Gould School of Law, said that a person in Ortega's position may remain in the United States for months or even years due to a court backlog, but ultimately has steep odds at avoiding deportation due to federal law stating that "any alien who has voted in violation of any Federal, State, or local constitutional provision, statute, ordinance, or regulation is deportable."

    "There are very limited applications for relief, and a felony criminal conviction would bar you from a lot of relief," Reisz said. "And once you have that conviction there's no way to get rid of it unless its vacated by a criminal judge, or you are pardoned by the governor or the president."

    Ortega will likely not hold out hope for those pardons, considering that Texas public officials have made a practice of severely punishing the sort of voting crimes that elsewhere are treated as minor infractions. The policy is in line with the stated beliefs of President Donald Trump, who has made frequent assertions, without evidence, that widespread voter fraud cost him votes in the 2016 election.

    The ballots that led to Ortega's imprisonment were actually cast for Republicans. In 2012, Ortega voted for presidential candidate Mitt Romney in the general election, and in 2014, for then-Texas Attorney General candidate Ken Paxton, who would go on to win-- and prosecute Ortega for illegal voting.

    Dallas-based attorney Clark Birdsall, who represented Ortega at trial, learned from a reporter about her parole and pending deportation. He asserted that her imprisonment and deportation was the result of "a totally inappropriate prosecution and a totally inappropriate sentence."

    "In my opinion they just used an elephant gun on a gnat," Birdsall said.

    Representatives for Texas Attorney General Paxton did not respond to messages seeking comment on Ortega's parole or pending deportation. Paxton has previously boasted that Ortega's successful prosecution proved that his office "will hold those accountable who falsely claim eligibility and purposely subvert the election process in Texas."

    A spokesperson for Tarrant County District Attorney Sharen Wilson, who jointly prosecuted Ortega, declined to comment on her parole status, saying "that decision is within the purview" of the Texas corrections system.

    Birdsall blamed Wilson three years ago for thwarting a plea agreement that would have dismissed the charges against Ortega, and potentially saved her from deportation, if Ortega met conditions that included agreeing to speak to lawmakers about the dangers of election loopholes.

    Birdsall shared with a reporter a Jan. 2017 email that appeared to show Assistant Attorney General Jonathan White, who represented Paxton's office, tentatively agreeing to such a deal. The email also laid bare Ortega's significance as a political totem.

    "I think her story has the potential of coming across very well in the current climate and putting her in a positive light that might help secure her immigration status more than anything we can do on paper," White wrote.

    But Birdsall said he next learned that Wilson had objected to the deal, resulting in Ortega going to trial and ultimately receiving the lengthy prison sentence.

    "She didn't just say no, she said, 'Hell no,'" Birdsall said of Wilson. "'It's not going to be dismissed, we’re going to trial, see you Monday.'"

    Wilson's spokesperson, Samantha Jordan, said that Birdsall's account was "not correct."

    Jordan and White both pointed out that Ortega had previously turned down a plea offer of two years of probation, when she had a different defense attorney, but neither would address the later potential agreement referenced in the email.

    Jordan emphasized that the sentence was the decision of the trial's jurors, who could have sentenced Ortega to up to twenty years. "At trial, we did not ask for prison time," the spokesperson stated in an email, "and made sure the jurors were aware she was probation eligible."

    Before the jurors were to decide Ortega's sentence, a prosecutor portrayed her as representative of a potential illegal voting invasion.

    "You came back with the right verdict... if you’d come back with a not guilty, can you imagine the floodgates that would be open to illegal voting in this county?” the prosecutor asked.

    Birdsall said it appeared prosecutors were now attempting to distance themselves from the sentence they secured with such rhetoric. "It's like an arsonist turning their back on a fire and saying, 'We don't know how that happened,'" Birdsall said.

    Birdsall characterized Ortega as an poorly-educated woman who, as a lawful permanent resident all of her adult life, was unaware that she was not permitted to vote. Her indictment in November 2015 followed a series of confused actions which she readily revealed to elections officials and law enforcement investigators.

    After moving from Dallas to neighboring Tarrant County in late 2014, she had attempted to register to vote but indicated on her application that she was not an American citizen. When her application was rejected, she called election administrators and was told that the reason for the rejection was that she had checked the "no" box for citizenship. Ortega explained that she had been able to vote in Dallas County, and resubmitted her voter registration, this time indicating that she was a citizen.

    Several months later, Ortega was visited on her front porch by two investigators from Paxton's office. They secretly recorded Ortega as she said she checked the box indicating she was a citizen because she had previously encountered no trouble voting in Dallas County.

    It was Ortega's poor luck that she had just confessed to illegal voting in the state where elected officials have increasingly made examples of those they deem as contributing to the disputed scourge of voter fraud.

    Paxton has tweeted about a "VOTER FRAUD ALERT" in which Texas officials claimed to have pinpointed tens of thousands of non-citizen voters and vowed to investigate them all, a probe that then never occurred. His office frequently generates press releases boasting of its arrests of those involved in an "organized voter fraud ring" or an "organized illegal voter scheme," in which the defendants are typically Hispanic. Paxton has said that in 2018 alone, his Election Fraud Unit “prosecuted 33 defendants for a total of 97 election fraud violations.”

    And his office, in coordination with Wilson's, was behind another harsh prison sentence concerning voter fraud. In 2018, Crystal Mason, who is black, was sentenced to five years in prison in Tarrant County for casting a provisional ballot despite having been convicted of a felony. Mason has claimed that she did not know she wasn't allowed to vote, and she is currently appealing the conviction.
    The voter fraud claims of Paxton and similarly-minded Texas officials have caught Trump's attention. In Jan. 2019, the president latched on to the baseless claim about an army of non-citizen voters in Texas, tweeting that the big numbers were "just the tip of the iceberg."

    Ortega's attorneys have decried her prosecution as an effort to bolster those claims and in doing so, to scare away Hispanics and other people of color from voting. "Her prosecution was a coordinated effort by Attorney General Paxton to suppress minority voters," said another former attorney, Domingo Garcia. "The clear intent was to intimidate them into thinking, 'If I vote, I might get in trouble like that lady.'"

    The elected law enforcement officials involved in Ortega's prosecution seized on her actions as evidence that widespread voter fraud did exist. "People insist this kind of thing doesn't happen, but its happening right here at home," Wilson stated in a press release touting Ortega's indictment.
    Ortega was convicted and sentenced by a jury in February 2017 following a two-day trial. She remained out of prison while appealing the case. A higher court upheld the original conviction in late 2018.

    According to a spokesperson for the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, Ortega was incarcerated starting in Feb. 27, 2019 at two women's facilities, the Lucile Plane State Jail and the The William P. Hobby Unit. A parole panel voted to release her Dec. 2, but she was then held in ICE custody until being granted bond on Jan. 21.

    It's not known whether she had hired an immigration attorney to handle her deportation case. Her former attorneys said they have been unable to contact her or her family members, and they said they don't know whether Ortega has been reunited with her four teenage children.

    Birdsall described the looming deportation as by itself a disproportionate penalty for Ortega's crimes.
    "She will have to peck and claw her way in a country she doesn't know much if anything about," Birdsall said. "My goodness, that's more than enough punishment."

    Are you registered to vote? Check your status or register online now to make sure your vote counts.
    This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Texas woman sentenced to eight years for illegal voting paroled, now faces deportation.

    Last edited by Beezer; 02-21-2020 at 04:42 PM.


  2. #2
    Senior Member Beezer's Avatar
    Join Date
    Apr 2016

    Her "children" are free to go move to her country.

    How many THOUSANDS have voted illegally in our elections who have not been caught yet!

    How much taxpayer money did her FOUR children cost U.S. taxpayers on top of that!




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