Nation & World

Illinois priest nearing citizenship now faces deportation. Because he mistakenly voted

His supporters say the Rev. David Boase was thrilled earlier this year when an immigration official said he had completed all steps to U.S. citizenship, short of taking the oath.

Later, however, a government letter broke the news that will culminate in a hearing next week in Kansas City: citizenship denied. You need to go back to England.

While processing the final papers on Boase’s path to citizenship, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services discovered that the retired Episcopal priest made the grave mistake of voting — just once — in a 2006 election.

Voting when not a U.S. citizen “is like a capital offense” in the eyes of federal authorities, said Jessica Piedra, a Kansas City immigration lawyer unfamiliar with Boase’s case. Even if done unknowingly, “it’s the worse thing you can do.”

Boase, who migrated 14 years ago to Illinois to serve Episcopal churches, told USCIS he was unaware at the time that only citizens can cast ballots in federal elections. Moreover, Boase said he agreed to register while obtaining his driver’s license at a state Department of Motor Vehicles office, after presenting his British passport as identification.

A DMV supervisor directed him to sign up to become a voter.

His case, which Boase is pledging not to fight, has stirred supporters to action.

“It’s spreading through the social media accounts I think of everybody in the diocese,” said Elizabeth Donald, a parishioner at St. Andrews Episcopal Church in Edwardsville, Ill., where Boase, 69, has filled a pastoral vacancy the past several months. “Father Boase is very popular and everyone is quite concerned.”

She called the government’s unsympathetic stance “madness.”

Boase’s lawyer in St. Louis, David Cox, said Thursday that the priest was a green-card holder — legally in the U.S. for as long as he desired — and had truthfully answered all questions in applying for citizenship. That included an acknowledgment he had once voted, thinking it was OK.

With the advent of state motor-voter laws aimed at helping people register, “it’s difficult for newcomers to know whether or not they fall under a criminal statute” when they vote, Cox said. “The result can be harsh.”

The Telegraph newspaper in Alton, Ill., quotes Boase saying his deportation is “inevitable” and he would accept voluntary departure if an immigration judge in Kansas City approves. Voluntary departures enable many deportees to return to the U.S. within a few years if they can secure the proper visas.

Boase did not respond to repeated efforts by The Star to contact him. But many friends are rallying to tell his story and help his cause.

A GoFundMe account to help fund Boase’s legal expenses has surpassed its $5,000 goal. A supporter in Pennsylvania launched a Facebook page, “Friends United for Father David Boase,” and posted a YouTube video of Boase discussing his predicament. In it, he said he got his voter registration card and voted in a local election.

“I will have to leave my community, my church, my friends, the land I love, my home,” he said in the video. “And return to England, where I do not have funds to enable me to buy a home, barely to even to rent a home. ... I need help.”

Except for voting in 2006, Boase appears to have done nothing wrong. A check of Illinois criminal records revealed no offenses.

His supporters note that his mistake at the polls may never have been known had Boase not applied for citizenship with USCIS, the federal agency that administers naturalization procedures and assists applicants seeking to become Americans.

Because of his clean record, “he never was in ICE custody” nor was Boase rooted out by the enforcement agency, said Scott Neudauer, a spokesman for Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

“USCIS issued the charging documents,” he said.

While USCIS said Thursday it could not immediately address details of Boase’s case, agency spokeswoman Sharon Rummery wrote in an email to The Star: “Many people are in good immigrant status, but can’t vote because they never took the final step. Lawful permanent residents can live here their whole lives.

“But they need to apply for and be granted citizenship status to vote.”

The saddest aspect here is that Boase was so close to gaining that status, said St. Andrews parishioner Jane Weingartner.

Though the priest didn’t speak of his immigration troubles to church members, “you knew he was excited about becoming a U.S. citizen,” Weingartner said. “He wanted to see his grandson (in England) but didn’t want to go without completing the process.

“He’s really a remarkable person, the kind you want to have in this country.”