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KD MAGAZINE! 
Posted: Dec 18, 07 ב"ה     ט' בטבת, תשס"ח                                          

 
 
 
   
 

An Immigration Dilemma

Rabbi Shea Hecht
About the Author

 

When I read about Beth Keathley and her immigration problem it spotlighted how much political correctness has over taken common sense.

 

Beth Keathley of Bloomington, Illinois, was so close to becoming a permanent U.S. citizen that she already enjoyed some of the benefits; she got a Social Security number and an official state identification card. As far as she could tell citizenship would not be far behind. But she made a mistake - one that trips up hundreds of immigrants each year.

 

 Keathley, who has lived in the U.S. on a marriage visa since 2003, was not a citizen when she went to get her state ID card. She probably should have brought a lawyer with her. While in the government office getting the ID card she mistakenly ended up registering to vote. The voter registration form shows she checked a box indicating she was a citizen. She said she does not specifically remember checking that box, though she obviously did. Yet I could understand the confusion. Keathley had her Social Security numberand her appointment with immigration, so when someone from the government offered her the chance to vote, why would she think it's illegal to do it?

 

When she told an immigration officer about it, she was charged with breaking the law and she lost her job. Her mistake could also derail her citizenship, and unless a judge rules in her favor, she could eventually be deported -- uprooting a family that includes her 9-month-old daughter, Sheina.

 

Keathley had no idea that what she did was illegal. In fact, on the day the Filipino immigrant took part in her first U.S. election last year, she proudly sported an "I voted" lapel pin on her uniform when she showed up for her job.

 

What bothers me about what happened is that Keathley's alleged crime took place at the secretary of state's facility in Bloomington. In what can only be called a very bad case of political correctness, state employees are prohibited by federal law from seeking confirmation of citizenship before registering people to vote, so a clerk invited Keathley to register to vote as part of the "motor voter" program. Keathley said the clerk saw her Filipino passport as part of the application for the state identification card.

 

She figured that if a state employee offered her the opportunity to register, it must be all right.

 

Before the National Voter Registration Act of 1993, also known as the "motor voter" law, registration took place before a sworn elections official, usually inside a local election board office or voting precinct -- places hard to find for even native-born citizens.

 

Today, in addition to voter registration materials being available at driver's license facilities and other public agencies, you can literally be registered while walking down the street - since there are volunteers with clipboards full of mail-in forms meant to boost voter turnout.

 

Many immigrants, like Keathley, fall into this trap. The person registering them to vote doesn't ask them if they are citizens or tell them they can't register if they are not and they end up breaking the law. Others are confused, and leave the question unanswered and still receive voter registration cards.

 

The Keathleys' attorney, Richard Hanus, contends that federal immigration law doesn't consider the possibility that such actions are done by mistake. He hopes to convince a judge that Keathley is of good moral character.

 

"We're talking about a family unit with a child and a woman with no previous criminal behavior whatsoever who has followed immigration laws to the T," Hanus said. "What took place is, at worst, an innocent mistake and not an act that was done in any malicious way."

 

Keathley is filled with regret for her actions.

 

"I think about how this affects us financially and how we have a baby. I'm losing my job, and we don't have enough to eat," she confided, during a moment when her husband was out of the room. "John (her husband) says, 'Just don't think about it.'

 

Personally, I am stymied by the fact that we have laws that forbid those who register people to vote from questioning their eligibility to do so.  I think that mix-ups like Beth Keathley's should be a message that this country, in all fairness, has to rethink its voter registration and immigration laws and base them more on common sense than political correctness.

 

Read more articles by Rabbi Hecht 

Rabbi Hecht's Website:  www.sheahecht.com  

 

 
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