The Texas Woman Sentenced to Eight Years for Illegal Voting is Free on Bond

Our daily roundup of Texas headlines.

By Becky FogelMarch 7, 2017 11:12 am

The Standard’s news roundup gives you a quick hit of interesting, sometimes irreverent, and breaking news stories from all over the state.

The Grand Prairie woman convicted for voting illegally is out of jail for now. But Rosa Maria Ortega – who isn’t a U.S. Citizen – still faces 8 years in prison on two counts of illegal voting. Jeff Caplan, senior reporter at the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, has more: 

“And because she committed a felony she is most likely going to be deported when her sentence is up,” Caplan says. “Her sentence of 8 years is the harshest most severe sentence in Texas going back to at least 2005, and probably a lot longer than that. And the sentence has been criticized and been described as being overreaching and cruel for a woman who is a legal resident, with a green card, and living in North Texas for most of her life.”

Ortega is out on bond while her case is being appealed.

“What her attorneys believed was going to happen next – and what most experts believed what was going to happen next – was that she would be handed over to immigration authorities because ICE had an immigration hold on her,” Caplan says. “So she would have had to been processed through immigration in Dallas, likely sent back to a detention center where she would have sat until immigration court set a date for her to see a judge.”

But that’s not what happened. ICE ended up releasing the immigration hold on Ortega.

“She was set free, so she was able to reunite with her four children – she has four kids ages 12 through 16 – and a fiancé who she actually broke up the engagement with during the arrest and trial and so forth,” Caplan says. “So she’s out now, she’s free now, but only until her case runs through the court system.”

Caplan said the best case scenario for Ortega is winning her appeal and getting a new trial. If she loses her appeal she will have to serve her sentence and likely face deportation.

Wildfires in the Texas panhandle have led to the evacuation of some area residents. About 150 homes are threatened by a blaze in Potter County.

According to the Texas A&M Forest Service, that fire near Amarillo covers at least 25,000 acres. A second fire in Ochiltree and Lispcomb Counties covers 40,000 acres.

Gov.Greg Abbott said Monday that state resources have been deployed to help combat wildfires in the region. You can learn more about wildfires that happen annually in the panhandle here.

Some Texas lawmakers are moving ahead with measures that would improve the living conditions of migrant farm workers. This effort comes after an Austin-American Statesman investigation last year exposed the difficult conditions many of these workers endure.

Because of that report, State Senators Jose Rodriguez of El Paso and Juan Hinojosa of McAllen co-authored a bill that would require the Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs to improve regulations of migrant housing facilities.

Daniela Dwyer is the Managing Attorney at Texas RioGrande Legal Aid – a non-profit organization that provides free legal services to low-income Texans.

“I have a jar here of scorpions that farm workers here in the state of Texas brought to us at Legal Aid because their housing was so infested that they could actually fill a jar full of scorpions,” Dwyer says. “How many evenings would you spend like that – much less with a child?”

Texas has the second-highest number of migrant farmworkers in the nation.