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Immigration Law

Motor Voter Law a Fast Track to Crime

Posted Dec 3, 2007 4:45 PM CDT
By Martha Neil

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Proudly proceeding on a fast track toward legal residency and eventual U.S. citizenship, Beth Keathley was so excited about having had a chance to vote in her first American election that she mentioned the milestone to her immigration officer.

The next thing she knew, she had been charged with a crime, had lost her job as a hospital cleaner and was facing possible deportation, reports the Chicago Tribune. Because she isn't a citizen, the Filipino immigrant—who has been in the U.S. since 2003 on a marriage visa—isn't eligible to vote. But the state worker who registered Keathley when she got her driver's license is prohibited by law from asking about applicants' immigration status. Meanwhile, Keathley figured the worker—who had seen her passport from the Philippines—must know what she was doing.

Although no one keeps track of how many other well-meaning immigrants get caught in such apparently unintentional wrongdoing, the number has increased since so-called federal motor voter legislation in 1993 eased registration requirements, the newspaper says.

"You didn't see these cases as much before because it was harder; people had to take more steps," says Carlina Tapia-Ruano, a Chicago lawyer who is a former president of the American Immigration Lawyers Association. "Now it's easier to register to vote. But the downside is people are getting innocently trapped in this situation."

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