In the United States, she's a college sophomore. In Mexico, she's a criminal.
The government says Jennie Pasquarella - along with a German woman and a Swiss woman - violated terms of their tourist visas by working as human rights observers and announced Sunday that they had nine days to leave the country.Pasquarella, 19, says that in the past few days she's been expelled from an Indian village, taken from her hotel room by immigration officials who wouldn't give their names, forced to sign a confession and abandoned in one of the world's biggest cities with no money or belongings.
Mexican law prohibits foreigners from becoming involved in, or stating opinions about, Mexican politics, and it requires special visas for foreigners acting as human rights observers or aid workers.
Pasquarella, in a telephone interview Monday night, conceded that she was doing volunteer work on a tourist visa, but said the Mexican government was enforcing the visa laws selectively in an attempt to intimidate people trying to document human rights abuses in southern Chiapas state.
"The situation is just becoming so intense militarily, and foreigners have become the scapegoat," she said. "(Government officials) want to scare people. They don't want anyone to witness the crimes they're actually committing."
Pasquarella, a sophomore at Barnard College in New York who is from Seattle, came to Mexico during spring break to volunteer at a human rights center in the highlands Chiapas city of San Cristobal de las Casas.
More than 200 foreigners have been expelled from Chiapas over the last two years for violating tourist visas. In most cases, the government has accused them of being sympathetic to the Zapatista National Liberation Army, which staged a brief uprising in January 1994 to demand greater democracy and Indian rights.
The expulsions have increased since the Dec. 22 massacre of 45 people in the Chiapas hamlet of Acteal by a pro-government paramilitary group.
In what was seen as a reference to Chiapas, President Ernesto Ze-dil-lo warned last month that foreigners must respect Mexican laws, and spoke of Mexicans' "will to struggle and work together to build our own destiny without foreign intervention."
The government insists it is not trying to drive away tourists or legitimate human rights observers.
Pasquarella admitted that she has sympathy for the Zapatista rebels. But she said she never had any contact with them, nor was she supporting their armed struggle.