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U.S. may deport Meyer

Cuban-born woman who gave up her Adelanto council seat because she is not a citizen surrenders on immigration charges.

June 23, 2007|Jonathan Abrams | Times Staff Writer

A former Adelanto City Council member who resigned after questions of her citizenship status were raised two years ago now faces deportation for voting in the 2004 presidential election.

Cuban-born Zoila Meyer surrendered to the San Bernardino County office of the Department of Homeland Security's Immigration and Customs Enforcement on Tuesday and was arrested on charges of violating immigration laws.

The arrest stems from Meyer's voting in the presidential election and pleading guilty to an unlawful voter charge last year.

Meyer, a 40-year-old mother of four who has lived in the United States since she was 1, is a legal alien resident but not a U.S. citizen, according to the San Bernardino County district attorney's office.

Meyer could not be reached Friday but told the Associated Press that she always assumed she was a citizen, and was unaware of her immigration status when she voted and ran for office.

"It makes me feel like we're all just numbers," she said. "I see people writing, 'This is my country.' It really isn't. It belongs to the government, and they decide who stays and who goes.... You think you're free; you're really not. If they can do this to me, they can do it to anybody."

Lori Haley, an immigration agency spokeswoman, said Meyer was arrested because her misdemeanor conviction violates immigration laws.

"If she believes she has reason to stay here, she can plead her case before an immigration judge," Haley said. The agency "arrests people because they believe they are in the county illegally. It's the judge who makes the decision on whether somebody is deported or not."

Meyer told the Associated Press that she attends two local colleges and hopes to work as a forensic nurse.

"To be honest with you, I'm scared," she said. "How can they just pluck me out of my family, my kids?"

Adelanto Mayor Pro Tem Charley B. Glasper said he questioned why Meyer was being targeted.

"A little bit of common sense and empathy will go a long way toward getting this problem corrected," he said. "I'm just baffled at the process that they are taking to deport this young lady. Personally, I don't think she's done anything wrong."

Meyer resigned her council seat in January 2005, 10 weeks into her four-year term, after district attorney's investigators determined that she was a legal resident but not a citizen as she had declared on her candidacy papers.

Meyer's standing was discovered after an estranged family member told officials she was born in Cuba, prompting an inquiry from the district attorney's public integrity unit.

Meyer was ordered to pay a $235 fine and $1,080, her council salary, to the city of Adelanto.

She is scheduled to appear before an immigration judge July 18. If Meyer is deported, a possible destination could be Canada -- her last point of entry into the U.S. recorded on her immigration card.

The United States does not deport immigration violators to Cuba.

Adelanto, a rapidly expanding high desert town, has experienced political turmoil in recent years.

Mayor Jim Nehmens and his wife, Kelly, were arrested in April on charges of embezzling $20,000 over three years from the Adelanto Little League's fireworks sales.

Philip Genaway, a former Adelanto police chief, was sentenced in 1997 to a four-year prison term for embezzling nearly $10,000 from the department's canine unit.

And in the 1990s, Tom Thornburg was elected mayor even though he had served one year in prison on federal drug smuggling charges.

jonathan.abrams@latimes.com

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