Thu | Apr 2, 2020

Voter registration error in US risks deportation for immigrants

Published:Monday | February 10, 2020 | 1:45 PM
In this February 6, 2020, photo, Peruvian Margarita Del Pilar Fitzpatrick, poses for a portrait at San Martin de Porres neighborhood in Lima, Peru. (AP Photo/Martin Mejia)

CHICAGO (AP) — The day Margarita Del Pilar Fitzpatrick applied for an Illinois driver’s license upended her life.

When a clerk offered to register her to vote in 2005, the Peruvian citizen mistakenly accepted, leading to long legal battles and eventually deportation.

A decade and a half later, she struggles to find work at 52, is nearly homeless and hasn’t seen her three American citizen daughters in years because of a secretary of state’s office mishap.

“It has derailed our lives,” she said in a phone interview from Lima.

“Immigrants should not be put in this situation.”

A handful of other immigrants could face a similar fate, or criminal charges, after a mistake in Illinois’ automatic voter registration system allowed of hundreds of people who identified themselves as non-US citizens to register.

Sixteen cast ballots.

The fiasco in a state with a reputation for election shenanigans triggered a partisan battle, infuriated voter advocacy groups and left immigrant rights activists doing damage control.

“It’s disappointing because the situation could have been avoided,” said Lawrence Benito, head of the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights.

“They voluntarily told people they were non-citizens. It was not their fault.”

Voting by non-citizens is forbidden by state and federal laws and is statistically rare.

But President Donald Trump has repeatedly made unsubstantiated claims that millions voted illegally in 2016.

His comments gave a political charge to the issue and put voting modernisation efforts such as automatic registration in the spotlight.

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