FORT WORTH, Texas - A Mexican national who was convicted of voting illegally in Dallas County says she was used as a “political example."
Rosa Maria Ortega has four children who she hasn't seen since the conviction. Her worry is she won't be there for them when she gets out of jail.
Ortega is currently serving an eight-year sentence for illegally voting in Dallas County and then trying to vote in Tarrant County.
In a jailhouse interview, Ortega said she wishes she never saw the voter registration card years ago. The 37-year-old is headed to the state prison system and believes it's because the Republican Party she voted for since 2004 is now trying to make an example of her
"I don't think it's fair that I'm here on this case like this because I didn't really know. I really thought I was doing something right,” she said. “I really think it was two years, the most— three. I didn't really think it was going to be eight. That was too much."
Prosecutors say Ortega lied on a Dallas County voter registration form and said she was a U.S. citizen and voted at least 5 times over ten years, including the 2012 general election and again in 2014. Both times, she said she cast a ballot for the Republican candidate.
When Ortega tried to register in Tarrant County, she was told she couldn't because she wasn't a citizen. She and her attorney say there was a plea deal offered but was then yanked right before trial.
"It was against me just to be an example. That's all it is,” she said.
Ortega says her mother brought her into the country when she was a child and told her she was a legal citizen. That's what she's always thought. She says she didn't know the difference between a citizen and a resident.
Ortega says she misses her family and hopes other Latinos vote with caution. As for her eight-year sentence, she blames race and politics.
"I just told God to forgive them because they know what they're doing against me. And they're wrong because they could have done this to someone else who really committed a crime,” she said. “My record was clean. And to be having a felony second-degree with eight years, that's impossible. That's just not fair.”
The Tarrant County District Attorney's Office and Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton issued statements saying the sentence sends a message that Texas is serious about keeping its elections secure.