At about 4 a.m. on Aug. 23, federal agents rousted Jose Solano-Rodriguez from his bed in the suburbs of Raleigh. A couple of hours later, three agents knocked on Hyo Suk George’s door as she fed her rabbits and chickens in rural Columbus County. Jose Ramiro-Torres was at his job at a fencing company near the Outer Banks when his girlfriend called to tell him to come home, where federal agents were waiting.
In all, 20 immigrants — two still in pajamas — were rounded up over several days, many of them handcuffed and shackled, and charged with voting illegally in the 2016 presidential election. The sweep across eastern North Carolina was one of the most aggressive voting-fraud crackdowns by a Trump-appointed prosecutor — and also a deliberate choice that demonstrates where the administration’s priorities stand.
At the time of the arrests, an organized ballot-tampering effort that state officials had repeatedly warned about was allegedly gearing up in the same part of North Carolina. The operation burst into public view after Election Day in November when the state elections board, citing irregularities in the mail-in vote, refused to certify the results of the 9th Congressional District race. That seat remains unfilled while state officials investigate.
The decision by U.S. Attorney Robert Higdon Jr. to focus his office’s resources on the prosecution of noncitizens rather than the ballot-tampering allegations in Bladen County comes amid a broad push by President Trump and other Republicans to portray illegal voting as a widespread phenomenon that threatens the integrity of American elections.