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Ex-councilwoman who thought she was a U.S. citizen could be deported

LOS ANGELES (AP) — All of her life, Zoila Meyer believed she was an American. She even won election to the City Council of Adelanto.

But now she is facing a threat of deportation for illegally voting because she never became a citizen after being brought to this country from Cuba when she was one year old.

“To be honest with you, I’m scared. How can they just pluck me out of my family, my kids?” the 40-year-old mother of four said Friday. “If they can do this to me, they can do it to anybody,” she said.

After Meyer was elected to the council in Adelanto in 2004, someone told officials that she was born in Cuba, prompting an investigation.

Eventually, “the police came to me and said, ‘Zoila, you’re not a citizen. You’re a legal resident but you’re not a citizen,’ ” said Meyer, who now lives in the San Bernardino County desert town of Apple Valley, near Adelanto.

She resigned after 10 weeks in office in Adelanto, a town of about 23,000.

Meyer, whose story was first reported in the Victorville Daily Press, applied to become a naturalized citizen and continued with her life: raising her children and attending two local colleges to earn degrees toward her goal of working in the justice system as a forensic nurse.

However, because she was not a citizen, Meyer faced a felony charge of illegally voting in the 2004 election.

In April 2006, she pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge of fraudulent voting, and was placed on probation, fined and ordered to pay restitution.

What Meyer didn’t realize is that fraudulently voting is a deportable offense.

On June 18, Meyer said, immigration officials showed up at her home and told her to appear at their San Bernardino office.

Her husband drove her to the office on Tuesday, “and they handcuffed me,” Meyer said. “They put me in jail and they frisked me and processed me.”

“I said ‘You’re doing this because I voted?’ ”

The case is unusual but immigration officials were just doing their job when they arrested Meyer, said Lori Haley, a spokeswoman for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

“People are arrested on immigration charges from all walks of life,” she said. “She can plead her case before an immigration judge, if she feels that she has reason to seek release for removal. ... Everybody has due process when they’re arrested.”

Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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