Immigrant wins illegal voting case, granted residency

Elizabeth Keathley, who emigrated from the Phillipenes, faced deportation after illegally voting in the 2006 congressional election. [Photo by Bea Corbin]

Elizabeth Keathley, who emigrated from the Phillipenes, faced deportation after illegally voting in the 2006 congressional election. [Photo by Bea Corbin]

A Filipino immigrant who faced deportation for illegally registering to vote and casting a ballot can now stay in the U.S.

Elizabeth Keathley of Bloomington, Ill., who came to the U.S. in 2003, registered to vote in 2006 through the “motor voter” law – even though she was not a citizen. Last week, the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals cleared her of wrongdoing, and a Department of Justice immigration judge has approved her permanent residence, the Chicago Tribune reported.

The court accepted Keathley’s testimony that an employee at the DMV rushed her through the driver’s license application process, during which she was asked if she was interested in registering to vote.

After receiving her voter registration card, Keathley voted in the 2006 congressional election. During a citizenship interview that December, she was asked if she had voted. When she said yes, she was dismissed. In addition to facing deportation and leaving behind her family, she lost her job and medical insurance.

As the Reporter wrote in February, Keathley’s story is a cautionary tale for immigrants and legal residents, a dilemma for DMV and immigration officials, and a touchy issue among civil rights advocates who fear that cases such as hers could threaten the benefits of the “motor voter” law and fuel state voter ID laws.

Under the National Voter Registration Act, or the motor voter law, people can register to vote when applying for a driver’s license or ID card, and state employees cannot ask about an applicant’s citizenship.

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