Julieta Garibay is one of almost 100,000 people on Texas' voter rolls who state officials recently said might not be citizens. Like many people on the list, though, the Austin resident recently became a U.S. citizen and has the right to vote.
“I know my rights, but it was like – wait, is this happening?” Garibay said after finding out she had been flagged.
Garibay, along with six other voters and voting rights groups, sued state officials over the weekend, claiming Texas’ effort to identify and remove alleged noncitizens from voter rolls was intended to single out and intimidate citizens who were not born in the United States.
On Jan. 25, Texas Secretary of State David Whitley announced his office wanted local election officials to look into removing people from the voters rolls whom his office suspected were not U.S. citizens.
His office compiled a list of people who had registered for a driver’s license or state ID as a noncitizen in the past 22 years, but who had also registered to vote in that period. The list included roughly 95,000 names.
On Twitter, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton and President Donald Trump both said the list was evidence of voter fraud – evidence that noncitizens were voting in Texas elections.
Voting rights groups argued the state’s list was likely of people who – like Garibay – became citizens shortly after they registered with the state as noncitizens.
Garibay had been undocumented for many years. A couple years ago, she applied for legal status through a special program under the Violence Against Women Act. It helps survivors of domestic violence like her report abuse to police without fear of deportation.
In April, Garibay says, she became a citizen. Two days later, she was running the Capitol 10K.
“I got to the end and there was like a big booth and they were like, ‘Register to vote,’" she says, "and we were like, ‘Oh my god, we need to register to vote."
Just a few months before that, in September 2017, Garibay renewed her driver’s license. She was a legal permanent resident at the time, which is something she had to report to Texas when she applied for a renewal.
She wasn’t required to update the state if her status changed. So, when she saw news of the state’s voter purge list on Twitter, Garibay says, she became concerned.
“I kept on reading and I was like, ‘I am likely one of them,’” she says.
Garibay says she sent an email to the Travis County voter registrar’s office last week and asked if she was on the list. Soon after, she got a call.
"The person said ... ‘I am calling you because you emailed us and I wanted to let you know you are on the list,’” Garibay says.
The office didn't provide any other information, Garibay says, which was really frustrating.
Travis County’s voter registrar, Bruce Elfant, has said his office is investigating and checking the state’s list. Last week, he said he had been removing a lot of names, which has been time-consuming and tedious.
“It would have been nice if they would have vetted this more carefully before they sent it out to election administrators,” he said at the time.
Elfant also said he’s not sending letters to people on the list asking them to prove their citizenship until he is sure he’s taken people off who are citizens.
“This is what we would categorize as a process, a work in process,” he said. “They will get it right.”
Garibay says this is more than just a couple of mistakes.
First of all, she says, it's "completely irresponsible" for "the Texas Secretary and Paxton [to say] I committed voter fraud." And second, she says, the state did not "even have a process of actually what the investigation looks like.”
In particular, Garibay says she is offended by how haphazardly state officials seemed to carry out this voter purge. She says voting isn’t a causal matter.
“I took it very seriously,” she says. “It is very serious. I finally get to vote. I am finally a voice in a ballot and I am not going to take it lightly. And the fact that they took it so lightly, to just say like, ‘Oh, you committed voter fraud,’ is just disrespectful and ridiculous on so many levels.”
Garibay says she feels this is part of a larger attack on immigrants in Texas. But she's not surprised.
“I think it very much speaks to their values,” she says. “It speaks to like – how do we put fear on everyone and anyone, specifically those who are brown? And yeah, it’s politically charged and they cannot deny it. To me, it is voter suppression and that is what they are trying to do.”
The lawsuit, filed in federal court in Corpus Christi, names Whitley, Paxton, Abbott and others as defendants in the case.
In it, Garibay and others argue the state’s effort targeting them “for investigation and removal from the voter rolls based only on the fact that they were born outside the United States, violates the Fourteenth Amendment Equal Protection Clause and the federal Voting Rights Act.”
They are also asking the court to stop the voter purge immediately.