Trump's "voter fraud" fraud won't silence us

In classic authoritarian fashion, the Trump administration is using the "big lie" as a pretext for carrying out an assault on immigrant communities, explains Eric Ruder.

Clockwise from top left: Stephen Miller, Donald Trump and Steve BannonClockwise from top left: Stephen Miller, Donald Trump and Steve Bannon

TRUMP ADMINISTRATION officials continue to assert that immigrants are perpetrating voter fraud on a massive scale. But the facts suggest--or rather cry out--that the only fraud being committed in this regard is the claim of voter fraud itself.

The facts so plainly refute the administration's claims that it would be funny if there wasn't already a casualty of the Trump administration's political crusade.

Her name is Rosa Maria Ortega, and she was just sentenced to eight years in prison and almost certain deportation for voting in 2012 and 2014 in Fort Worth, Texas.

Clark Birdsall, Ortega's attorney and a former Dallas County prosecutor who handled voter fraud cases, called the draconian sentence "an egregious overreaction, made to score political points, against someone who wrongly believed she was eligible to vote," according to the New York Times. By comparison, another case of voter fraud in 2015 in Fort Worth resulted in probation.

"She has a sixth-grade education," said Birdsall of his client, who is a legal permanent resident in the U.S. "She didn't know she wasn't legal. She can own property; she can serve in the military; she can get a job; she can pay taxes. But she can't vote, and she didn't know that."

Bitter anger at the Trump administration's vile racism and scapegoating, evident in cases like this, is fueling a spreading uprising from below, including a "Day Without Immigrants" boycott on February 16.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

STORIES LIKE Ortega's have caused a wave of panic in immigrant communities, magnifying the raw fear produced by stepped-up raids by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents.

Many government forms have an option for applicants to check if they are permanent residents, but the voter registration form only has a citizen option, which Ortega checked. When she received a voter registration card from the county, she assumed she had been properly registered. Now, she's headed to prison for that assumption.

Likewise, some green-card holders are inadvertently registered to vote when they receive a driver's license. Given the harsh sentence for Ortega, many people are now scrambling to un-register, but fearful that the effort to do so could trigger the very penalty they seek to avoid, even though most states exempt ineligible voters from penalties if they signed up accidentally or were registered due to a bureaucratic error.

In reality, actual intentional voter fraud is exceedingly rare, as election officials and media reports have repeatedly shown.

Yet senior White House adviser Stephen Miller appeared on several Sunday talk shows in mid-February to repeat the same allegation--using thoroughly debunked citations--that massive voter fraud by immigrants cost Trump a popular vote victory.

One of Miller's more outrageous assertions was that thousands of illegal voters were bused from Massachusetts to New Hampshire to vote in November--a lie refuted even by Republicans in that state.

"Let me be as unequivocal as possible--allegations of voter fraud in NH are baseless, without any merit--it's shameful to spread these fantasies," tweeted Tom Rath, a prominent Republican and former New Hampshire attorney general on February 12 in response to Miller.

Miller and the rest of Trump's team of racially motivated, anti-immigrant point-scorers persist in making these assertions because they serve their larger narrative that America is under siege by "hordes of foreigners" who pose an "existential threat" to the nation.

They also seem to subscribe to the same principle that Adolf Hitler described in Mein Kampf:

[I]n the big lie, there is always a certain force of credibility; because the broad masses of a nation are always more easily corrupted in the deeper strata of their emotional nature than consciously or voluntarily; and thus in the primitive simplicity of their minds they more readily fall victims to the big lie than the small lie, since they themselves often tell small lies in little matters but would be ashamed to resort to large-scale falsehoods...Even though the facts which prove this to be so may be brought clearly to their minds, they will still doubt and waver and will continue to think that there may be some other explanation. For the grossly impudent lie always leaves traces behind it.

This passage betrays the far right's contempt for the mass of society as easily duped fools. But political science researchers confirm that misinformation continues to affect people's beliefs even after it has been corrected.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

DESPITE ALL this, however, supporters of immigrant rights have an even more powerful weapon at their disposal--the power of organized resistance and its ability to affect public opinion. While the Trump administration hopes to create fear of widespread voter fraud, immigrant communities across the U.S. are fighting back.

Last week, in Phoenix, Arizona, Guadalupe García de Rayos, a 36-year-old mother of two U.S. citizens, reported to ICE as she has for the last several years. She was convicted of using a fake Social Security number to obtain work, but had been permitted to remain in the U.S. on the condition that she report annually to ICE officials.

But Trump's January 25 executive order states that all undocumented people charged with a criminal offense are now considered priorities for deportation.

More than 100 protesters mobilized to the ICE office where she was being held and blocked vans leaving the facility, one of which contained García de Rayos. Though ICE succeeded in deporting her, news of her arrest and the resistance to it has alerted people across the country about the new risks--and generated sympathy for a family callously and pointlessly ripped apart by Trump's order.

In Seattle, activists are protesting the detention of Daniel Ramirez Medina, a 23-year-old who won protection under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program established by the Obama administration.

Medina is the first known "DACAmented" immigrant to be detained. ICE showed up at his house to arrest his father and scooped up Daniel as well. Solidarity actions on his behalf are being planned for New York City and beyond.

In recent days, there have also been marches of hundreds and thousands in Milwaukee and Baltimore.

On February 16, there will be more actions, including walkouts at schools and workplaces, organized in Chicago, New York, and Washington D.C. as part of a call for "A Day Without Immigrants." In Chicago, celebrity chef Rick Bayless announced that he will close his four restaurants in solidarity with the call.

Meanwhile, the immigrant rights group Cosecha has announced a call for a May Day strike of immigrants and their supporters to stay away from work and school.

These struggles explain why support remains high for a path to citizenship for undocumented workers--far higher than approval for Donald Trump. A poll last month showed that Americans back a path to citizenship over deportation by an overwhelming margin of 79 to 16 percent. Even among Republicans, the split went in favor of the undocumented, 50 to 44 percent.

The Trump administration needs the crucifixion of Rosa Maria Ortega for voting in Texas to sustain its false narrative--precisely because the vast majority of people reject its propaganda.

Joining the protests to defend immigrants across the U.S. is both an opportunity and a responsibility for everyone who cares about justice.