Woman faces 8 years in prison, deportation for voting illegally; she claims she made an honest mistake

FORT WORTH, Texas -- A Texas woman is facing eight years in jail for voting illegally, but her attorney believes she's being used as a political cannon fodder.

Rosa Ortega never imagined voting would put her in prison.

"It's really sad. It's just too much," Ortega said.

Ortega, a single mother of four children faces eight years in prison after a Texas jury convicted her of voting illegally.  Ortega is not a United States citizen. She was born in Mexico, but she is a permanent US resident.

"I never knew the difference from resident and US citizen. Never," Ortega said.

Ortega insists she made an honest mistake. She was brought to the United States as a child, dropped out of school after sixth grade when her mother was deported, and says she never understood the difference when it comes to the rights given to a permanent resident and a citizen.

Ortega said she was 18 years old when she first started voting in Dallas almost 20 years ago. Voter registration forms show she often checked "yes" to whether she's a US citizen, and never had any problems. But when she moved to neighboring Tarrant County and re-registered, she says she mistakenly checked the "no" box on the line asking if she was a citizen. This application was rejected. A few months later, she sent in another one, this time checking "yes" -- and that's when investigators came calling.

Without an attorney, Ortega answered investigators' questions. The interview was secretly recorded.

Investigator: "So why did you check 'no' on this one if you checked 'yes' on all of the Dallas ones? Why did you check 'no' on the Tarrant County one?"

"Because, you know, because I knew that I wasn't a citizen," Ortega said.

Investigator: "And you knew that's why you weren't supposed to vote, that's why you checked it?"

"Well, I mean, that's what I'm sayin'. I didn't know it was going to be an issue because Dallas never had the issue," Ortega said.

Ortega said in all her years of voting, she never thought there was anything wrong.

"No. Nothing. I even told my kids -- 'hey, look, Mom voted.' Like 'this is good for you to do because people hear your voice,'" Ortega said.

The lead prosecutor in this case said the jury simply didn't believe Ortega's story.

Her attorney said President Donald Trump's repeatedly false claims of widespread voter fraud influenced the jury.

"We've got a current resident of the White House that's claiming his loss in the popular vote was due to three million illegals voting. They turned her into the poster child for voter fraud. It's inaccurate, but that's what happened. It's politics," Clark Birdsall, Ortega's attorney said.

The lead prosecutor denied there was any effort to make an example out of Ortega. The prosecutor said the jury, which determined the length of the sentence, felt a stiff punishment is the "only deterrent to make sure people vote the right way."

Republicans have been beating the drums of widespread voter fraud, even though actual cases are extremely rare. Texas Republicans hailed the ruling in this case.

Governor Greg Abbott tweeted: "In Texas, you will pay a price for voter fraud."

"To me it's like they're big-game hunters, standing there with a rifle in their arms and their foot on the carcass and a thumb up. It has ruined her life. She will never live with her kids again," Birdsall said.

Ortega often supported Democrats, but voted for Mitt Romney in 2012 and ironically, voted for the Republican Texas attorney general, whose office prosecuted her.

If her conviction stands, she will likely be deported. She's appealing the conviction and sentence.