ATLANTA — A federal judge in Georgia is considering whether to temporarily restore protection from deportation to a Mexican woman who became a well-known figure in the illegal immigration debate as a college student seven years ago.
As 29-year-old Jessica Colotl awaits the outcome, her latest experience highlights some young immigrants’ fears of the Trump administration’s immigration policies.
Colotl’s parents brought her to the U.S. illegally when she was 11. She went on to graduate from college and applied for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program in 2012. She was approved in 2013 and successfully renewed twice but learned in early May that immigration authorities had revoked her status and denied her latest renewal application.
Colotl said the news “devastated” her and immediately forced her to stop working as a paralegal and driving.
“I knew it would destroy my life, and it did that basically in a matter of seconds,” she said following a federal court hearing in Atlanta on Thursday.
The DACA program created by the Obama administration 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 advocated for strict immigration enforcement as a candidate but after taking office softened his position on young people commonly called “dreamers,” saying his administration was focused on criminals.
A spokesman for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement said last month that Colotl’s DACA status was revoked because she admitted guilt in 2011 to a felony charge of making a false statement to a law enforcement officer and entered a pretrial diversion program. Colotl’s attorneys, though, said that she complied with the program’s terms and has no felony conviction.
Colotl’s attorneys have asked Judge Mark Cohen to restore her DACA status and work authorization.
They contend that the government incorrectly revoked her status based on the 2011 false statement charge and should be forced to reconsider the decision.
The judge said he plans to rule early next week.
“This administration has promised not to hurt or deport dreamers,” Colotl’s attorney Charles Kuck said after the hearing. “But that’s exactly what they have done today to Jessica.”
Government attorneys on Thursday acknowledged that Colotl did complete the pretrial diversion program in 2011 but contended that agencies have broad discretion to review immigration and deportation cases. Jeffrey Robins, assistant director of the Department of Justice’s Office of Immigration Litigation, said Colotl may meet all general qualifications used to consider renewing DACA status but still not be “consistent with the Department of Homeland Security’s enforcement priorities.”
Robins declined to comment following the hearing.
Colotl 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.