A Texas woman may be facing deportation to Mexico after serving part of an eight-year prison sentence for illegally voting.
Rosa Maria Ortega was granted parole in December after serving nine months of her sentence but was taken into custody by Immigration and Customs Enforcement for two months, according to USA Today. The mother of four teenagers was freed on bond last month by an immigration judge and now faces deportation.
The 40-year-old, who was brought to the U.S. as a baby, was living in the country legally on a green card when she was charged with illegally voting. She cast votes for Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney in 2012 and then-Texas attorney general candidate Ken Paxton in 2014.
Paxton went on to win and eventually prosecuted Ortega, who was indicted in November 2015, as accusations of widespread voter fraud in Texas circulated. She maintained that she did not realize that her legal immigration status meant she was still ineligible to vote.
According to federal law, “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,” Jean Reisz, a professor at the University of Southern California Gould School of Law, told USA Today. “And once you have that conviction there’s no way to get rid of it unless it’s vacated by a criminal judge, or you are pardoned by the governor or the president.”
Clark Birdsall, the attorney who represented Ortega at trial, told USA Today that Ortega’s current situation was due to “a totally inappropriate prosecution and a totally inappropriate sentence.”
“In my opinion, they just used an elephant gun on a gnat,” he said.
According to USA Today:
Representatives for Paxton did not respond to messages seeking comment on Ortega’s parole or pending deportation. Paxton previously boasted that Ortega’s 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 claimed a plea agreement may have saved Ortega from the deportation but Wilson had objected.
“She didn’t just say no, she said, ‘Hell no,’ ” Birdsall said.
Paxton tweeted about a “VOTER FRAUD ALERT” and vowed to investigate illegal voting by tens of thousands of non-U.S. citizens. The investigation never took place but President Trump noted the alerts from Texas, tweeting in January 2019 that the voter fraud allegations were “just the tip of the iceberg.”
Birdsall condemned the current deportation possibility as an excessive penalty for Ortega’s crimes. Ortega was convicted in February 2017 after a two-day trial. She appealed the case and remained out of prison until February 2019. She was granted parole in December but was held in ICE custody until Jan. 21 when she was granted bond.
It was not known whether she was reunited with her children and her former lawyers indicated they had not been able to reach her or other family members.