"Leaving them behind is heartbreaking. There are no words to describe this." So said Margarita del Pilar Fitzpatrick, who came legally to the US in 2001 and has worked as a registered nurse. In 2005, as a legal permanent resident of the US, she applied for a driver's license in Illinois. Presenting her Peruvian passport and proof of legal residence ("green card"), she said that the clerk at the Illinois DMV asked her if she wanted to register to vote. She claimed later that she asked the clerk whether she should register, the clerk said that it was "up to her." She has since had to leave the United States, flying out of Kansas City.
Margarita del Pilar Fitzpatrick (left)
On an official form, Fitzpatrick checked the "Yes" box to indicate that she is a US citizen, and then checked off "Yes" again where the form asked whether she planned to vote in the next election. She later voted in two elections. But it was not until she applied for US citizenship in 2007 that she learned that her answers on the form, and her votes, were illegal. By January 2008, the federal government began efforts to deport her to her native Peru. She claims that she was misled.
Fitzpatrick has since returned to her native Peru, after receiving an order for deportation.
Under the so-called federal "Motor-Voter law" (National Voter Registration law) clerks are not allowed to discourage anyone from registering to vote. Before her departure from the US, Fitzpatrick told NBC News, in reference to being asked whether she wanted to register as a voter, "Non-citizens should not be asked this question. Period." In the NBC interview, Fitzpatrick said, "I'm not a criminal. I am a nurse. I am a grandmother, and I am a mother."
Fitzpatrick eventually lost her legal battle after ten years. Her three daughters, born in Peru, became naturalized US citizens.
Tom Fitton of Judicial Watch, a group that advocates for transparency and good governance, told NBC, "Like anyone else caught making a mistake that is actually a crime, they have the ability to tell that to a judge. And if someone doesn't buy it, that's the way the system works."
During the process to become a US citizenship, Fitzpatrick said she freely told an immigration official that she had voted. She later cancelled her voter registration, but two months later, she received a letter in the mail saying immigration officials were advancing on deporting her.
A Department of Homeland Security spokesperson said Fitzpatrick "rendered herself deportable when she gave a false claim to U.S. citizenship in 2005 by signing the voter registration form on which she declared herself to be a U.S. citizen."