Asylum-Seeker Helper Targeted by Racist Threats After False Voter Fraud Claims

Gabriela Zavala, a US citizen helping asylum seekers in Mexico, faced racist threats and death wishes after a viral social media thread falsely claimed her organization distributed flyers encouraging illegal immigrants to vote for President Biden. An NPR investigation found no evidence of the flyers, and migrant aid workers and asylum seekers denied ever seeing them.

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Asylum-Seeker Helper Targeted by Racist Threats After False Voter Fraud Claims

Asylum-Seeker Helper Targeted by Racist Threats After False Voter Fraud Claims

Gabriela Zavala, a 41-year-old U.S. citizen who helps asylum seekers in Matamoros, Mexico, has been the target of racist threats and death wishes after a viral social media thread falsely claimed that her organization was distributing flyers encouraging illegal immigrants to vote for President Biden. The thread, posted by the Heritage Foundation's Oversight Project on April 15, featured a video showing a flyer with Zavala's name and the logo of her group, Resource Center Matamoros (RCM), hanging in portable toilets at a migrant encampment just across the border from Brownsville, Texas.

Why this matters: The spread of misinformation about voter fraud can have serious consequences, including the erosion of trust in the democratic process and the potential for restrictive voting laws. It is crucial to combat false narratives and ensure the integrity of the electoral process to protect the rights of eligible voters.

The flyer, written in Spanish, read: "Reminder to vote for President Biden when you are in the United States. We need another four years of his term to stay open." However, Zavala denied creating the flyer and stated that RCM does not encourage migrants to vote. "I was almost in a state of shock... And I said, 'Wow, you know this is completely untrue,'"Zavala told NPR.

An investigation by NPR found no evidence of the flyers at RCM's office or at the migrant encampment in Matamoros. The flyer's text appeared to be copied from RCM's outdated website, with grammatical errors and a different writing style. Migrant aid workers and asylum seekers denied ever seeing the flyers or being told to vote in the U.S.

The Heritage thread, which garnered over 9 million views, included a snippet of a conversation between Zavala and Anthony Rubin, the founder of a right-wing video site called Muckraker. The conversation was taken out of context to imply that Zavala wanted to help as many illegal immigrants as possible before President Trump was reelected. "Believe me, we're in the same boat,"Zavala told Rubin in response to his comment about helping as many people as possible before Trump's potential return to office.

Within 12 hours of the flyer appearing online, members of Congress raised it in hearings and used it to justify a push for more restrictive voting laws. The false narrative about noncitizens swaying election outcomes has been perpetuated by former President Trump and his allies since 2016, despite studies repeatedly showing that noncitizen voting is rare and it is illegal for noncitizens to cast ballots in federal elections.

The viral thread and subsequent threats against Zavala highlight the real-world consequences of spreading misinformation about voter fraud. The false claims could be used to undermine future election results and make it harder for eligible U.S. citizens to register and vote if laws requiring documentary proof of citizenship are enacted. As the 2024 presidential election approaches, it is crucial to combat the spread of false narratives that erode trust in the democratic process.