In 2002, Margarita Del Pilar Fitzpatrick uprooted her life as a Peruvian citizen and moved to the U.S. to study English. Subsequently, she became a green-card holder, earning employment in Illinois as a medical translator and then as a nurse.
Like thousands of green-card holders, Fitzpatrick applied for a driver’s license three years after living in the U.S. Presenting her green card and Peruvian passport at the Department of Motor Vehicles, the desk clerk proceeded to ask, in accordance with Illinois’s motor-voter laws, whether she was registering to vote. When Fitzpatrick questioned the clerk about voting with her Peruvian passport in hand, the clerk refused to give advice and retorted, “It’s up to you.”
Mistaking the clerk’s refusal to offer advice with his approval to register to vote, Fitzpatrick checked the box confirming that she is a U.S. citizen, a prerequisite to register to vote, and completed the paperwork.
Fitzpatrick voted twice in the 2006 federal elections, and in 2007 the Department of Homeland Security filed a deportation order as a result. (DHS discovered Fitzgerald’s voting history after she truthfully described it in her application for U.S. citizenship.) Since then, Fitzgerald has fought in court — and appealed — the DHS’s deportation order.
On February 13, the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals ruled against Fitzpatrick in her plea to remain in the U.S. Fitzpatrick’s attorney Richard Hanus argued that there was “no fraud” and contended that the mistake had “[arisen] out of confusion,” but the three-judge panel disagreed: “Fitzpatrick is well educated and understands English,” the Seventh Circuit concluded. “It is not too much to ask that she find out before voting whether an alien can cast a ballot in a federal election.”
As result of this ruling, DHS can proceed to deport Fitzpatrick under the current statute, 8 U.S.C. §1227(a)(6), that “provides for the removal of aliens who vote in violation of state or federal law.”
According to Reuters, “Hanus said he has seen dozens, perhaps hundreds, of cases over the years in which an immigrant voted without realizing it was illegal.” Now, the Seventh Circuit’s decision provides a legal precedent for future immigration cases similar to Fitzpatrick’s: that even green-card holders who “led a productive and otherwise-unblemished life in this country” but mistakenly voted illegally will be deported.
Notwithstanding President Donald Trump’s unsubstantiated claim that three to five million illegal ballots cost him the popular vote, cases such as Fitzpatrick’s indicate that some individuals do, in fact, vote illegally in this country. Thanks to the Seventh Circuit, the federal government will enjoy broad powers to keep occurrences to a minimum.