Texas Woman Sentenced to 8 Years in Prison for Voter Fraud by Official She Helped Elect
Rosa Maria Ortega was brought to America from Monterrey, Mexico, by her mother as an infant. For over three decades, she made no distinction between "permanent resident" and "legal citizen." Then she was arrested.
The green-card holder is now facing nearly a decade in prison after voting illegally in two elections.
"I don't think it's fair that I'm here on this case like this because I didn't really know. I really thought I was doing something right,” she said. “I really think it was two years, the most three. I didn't really think it was going to be eight. That was too much."
The Mexican national believes she's being made a "political example" by Republicans who claim strict requirements will curtail the "big problem" of voter fraud. President Trump insists "millions" of undocumented immigrants voted illegally in the 2016 election for Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, without producing a shred of evidence.
In an ironic twist, Ortega was registered as a Republican, twice voting for the party's candidates.
“She voted for Mitt Romney over Barack Obama in the 2012 election. In 2014 she voted for our current attorney general, Ken Paxton,” her lawyer Clark Birdsall said. “And guess what? He’s the one responsible for prosecuting her.”
In 2011, the punishment for illegal voting in Texas was increased from a third-degree felony (up to 10 years in prison) to a second-degree felony (20 years).
"Yes, Texas considers illegal voting just as bad as injury to a child, or a theft of more than $100,000. Back in 2011, lawmakers were determined to crack down on illegal voters," Star Telegram columnist Bud Kennedy noted.
But Paxton defended the sentencing in an emailed statement.
"The outcome sends a message that violators of the state’s election law will be prosecuted to the fullest,” Paxton said. “Safeguarding the integrity of our elections is essential to preserving our democracy.”
Ortega was barred from voter registration in Tarrant County, Texas, where she informed officials of her immigration status. She went to trial without being offered a plea deal.
The 37-year-old mother of four fears now for her family, as well as for other Latinos.
"They're wrong because they could have done this to someone else who really committed a crime,” she said from behind bars. “My record was clean. And to be having a felony second-degree with eight years, that's impossible. That's just not fair.”
As for Ortega, Birdsall predicts, "She’ll do eight years in a Texas prison. And then she’ll be deported, and wake up blinking and scratching in a country she doesn’t know.”