Immigration officials in Washington and Los Angeles on Thursday denied a report that they have targeted for deportation noncitizens who voted illegally in the Nov. 5 election, even if they have since been sworn in as U.S. citizens.
“We have not targeted anybody at the present time,” said Immigration and Naturalization Service District Director Richard Rogers. “If [noncitizens] registered, if they voted, there is a problem. But each case is being looked at individually. We don’t know the circumstances that caused them to do this.”
Rogers said the INS is assisting state officials in their investigation of Hermandad Mexicana Nacional, a Latino rights group suspected by authorities of registering noncitizens to vote.
Court documents unsealed Tuesday at The Times’ request said Orange County prosecutors believe that employees of Hermandad “willfully and unlawfully committed [felonies]” by helping at least 227 noncitizens register to vote.
Last Saturday, The Times reported that the names of 374 people who registered to vote on cards issued to Hermandad matched the names of people Hermandad said were still in the process of obtaining U.S. citizenship, and that 220 of them cast ballots in Nov. 5.
An article Thursday in another Orange County newspaper sent a lightning bolt of fear through some persons who were registered by the group, including some who have been interviewed by investigators from the district attorney’s office.
Attorney Kathryn Terry said one of her clients, a Bolivian-born woman who had largely completed the citizenship process but hadn’t been sworn in, called her in the morning “sobbing and suicidal” after reading the story. Terry’s client, who now realizes she voted illegally, is one of dozens of noncitizens interviewed by investigators.
“She’s hysterical. She hasn’t slept since this [controversy] began,” Terry said. “My client is one of many misled by Hermandad when they told her it was OK to register and vote.”
Terry said she was also called by an INS official Thursday morning who reassured her that authorities are not targeting anybody. Terry had talked to the official earlier in the week about her client’s case.
“I’ve been told repeatedly [by INS officials] that just because there is an investigation doesn’t mean there will be prosecutions,” said Terry. “The INS believes that many [noncitizens registered by Hermandad] are victims.”
Russ Bergeron, an INS spokesman in Washington, said, “This issue is not black and white.”
“There’s a huge gray area. There’s criminal intent and other evidentiary factors that have to be considered,” said Bergeron. “It is misleading to imply that any specific action will be taken against an individual or group of individuals.”
Rogers also denied that his staff has reviewed pending citizenship applications of 150,000 people in the Los Angeles district to determine if they voted illegally, as was reported.
“Those reviews have nothing to do with voting,” said Rogers.
Instead, he said they are part of a new policy requiring review of each applicant’s file to see if all the paperwork is complete. In addition, authorities are also required to check an applicant’s file and keep it open until the FBI finishes a criminal background check.
Criminal defense attorney Roger Carey, who was recruited by Hermandad to represent any noncitizens charged in the investigation, said he was surprised by Thursday’s article.
He said he has not received any information from the INS or the district attorney’s office about prosecutions, but added that it is too early to know if they intend to file any charges. If any noncitizens are charged with voter fraud, it would be “extreme,” Carey said.
“I believe the individuals who registered and voted believed that they had the right to do that, and [they] want more than anything to be contributing and productive citizens of the United States,” said Carey. “These are really nice people . . . They’re not criminals. They did not act with criminal intent.”