ATLANTA | Federal authorities have revoked the protection from deportation granted to a Mexican woman who became a cause celebre in the debate over illegal immigration as a college student in Georgia seven years ago.
Jessica Colotl, 29, was reluctantly thrust into the national spotlight in 2010 after she was pulled over on a traffic charge on the campus of Kennesaw State University, near Atlanta. She was arrested and turned over to federal immigration authorities who kept her in a detention center for 37 days.
Her case was widely covered by the news media after her sorority sisters held posters with her name on them during a march for immigration reform in Atlanta while she was detained. As a visible symbol of the national debate over illegal immigration, her case was regularly cited by advocates on both sides of the issue.
Colotl, who was brought to the U.S. illegally by her parents when she was 11, went on to graduate. In 2012 she applied for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, program. Her application was granted in 2013 and renewed last year.
The Obama administration program offered a reprieve from deportation to people in the country illegally who could prove they arrived before they were 16, had been in the U.S. for several years and had not committed a crime since arriving.
President Donald Trump took a hard line on illegal immigration as a candidate, but has since softened his stance for those brought to the country as children.
Colotl’s attorney, Charles Kuck, said the revocation of Colotl’s DACA status shows Trump has not told the truth.
“Trump promised that DACA kids were fine,” Kuck said. “Nothing’s changed in Jessica’s case. … They are simply in bad faith punishing her for exercising her rights under the policies enacted by the government.”
Colotl, who had work authorization through the DACA program, had been working as a paralegal in Kuck’s office. Her parents moved back to Mexico several years ago, and after her mother fell ill last year Colotl wanted to go see her.
DACA recipients are allowed to travel internationally and her lawyers helped her get the necessary paperwork.
But her lawyers didn’t want her to travel because she still had an outstanding deportation order, Kuck said. They filed a motion to reopen and administratively close her deportation proceedings. Immigration Judge J. Dan Pelletier denied the request.
Colotl’s lawyers appealed to the Board of Immigration Appeals, which found in Colotl’s favor and in October sent the case back to Pelletier with instructions to administratively close her deportation case.
Pelletier held a hearing in January and, despite the board’s instructions, asked the government to state its position in writing, Kuck said. The government said in a filing that it had already stated its position to the board and deferred to the judge.
In a supplemental filing in March, the government said Colotl’s case shouldn’t be administratively closed because she was now a priority for deportation under a Department of Homeland Security memo issued Feb. 20 because of her criminal history. Colotl’s lawyers responded in April that the immigration judge was not allowed to look at department priorities when making decisions.
On May 3, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services revoked Colotl’s DACA protection, and a government lawyer the next day filed a new request for a deportation order, citing the termination of her DACA status.
Bryan Cox, a spokesman for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, said in an email that Colotl admitted guilt in August 2011 to a felony charge of making a false statement to a law enforcement officer and was allowed to enter a pretrial diversion program. He said that “under federal law her guilty plea is considered a felony conviction for immigration purposes.”
Kuck disputes that. He said she complied with the terms of pretrial diversion, meaning she did not plead guilty and does not have a felony conviction. Furthermore, he said, paperwork about the pretrial diversion agreement was submitted along with her approved DACA application, and nothing has changed since.
Kuck filed a challenge Tuesday in federal court.