A federal judge in Atlanta has ordered the government to reinstate a temporary reprieve from deportation for Jessica Colotl, a Norcross woman whose 2010 arrest in Georgia reignited the contentious national debate over illegal immigration.
In the 33-page preliminary injunction he issued Monday, U.S. District Court Judge Mark Cohen wrote that federal immigration authorities have “failed to present any evidence that they complied with their own administrative processes and procedures” in terminating the Lakeside High School graduate’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals status.
He also wrote that Colotl has at all relevant times met the eligibility requirements for DACA. Cohen ordered the government to reconsider its decision to cancel her DACA status and her application to renew it consistent with its procedures.
“Counsel for defendants was unable to provide the court the actual reason for the decisions to terminate plaintiff’s DACA status and deny her renewal application,” Cohen added.
Colotl, 28, welcomed the news of Cohen’s ruling. Getting her DACA status back will also allow Colotl to return to her job as a paralegal in a local immigration law office.
“I’m just really excited and thankful,” Colotl, a vocal advocate for a comprehensive overhaul of the nation's immigration system, told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “It just feels great that I’m going to be able to go back to work and my life is going to go back to normal.”
The U.S. Justice Department declined to comment.
The judge’s decision came the same day a federal appeals court in San Francisco ruled against President Donald Trump’s revised travel ban. On Monday, a three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a lower court’s injunction against the government’s 90-day ban on travelers from six Muslim-majority countries. That is the second appeals court to rule against Trump’s directive. Last month, the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Va., refused to reinstate the travel ban. The Trump administration has asked the U.S. Supreme Court to consider the case.
Federal authorities revoked the Mexican native’s DACA status last month, saying she admitted to making a false statement to a Cobb County law enforcement officer six years ago, though the charge was later dismissed. The government, the judge pointed out in his ruling Monday, confirmed in court that her admission was part of a pretrial diversion agreement, and it “is not considered to be a conviction for immigration purposes” that would make her ineligible for DACA.
Trump campaigned on cracking down on illegal immigration and canceling the Obama administration's DACA program, aimed at shielding immigrants, like Colotl, who were brought here as children. Trump has since softened his language about the program, which grants two-year work permits and deportation deferrals, telling participants they could "rest easy." But the government's decision concerning Colotl raises questions about how he will handle the nation's 770,000 DACA recipients.
In her lawsuit, Colotl is accusing the government of using her as "a test case to revoke DACA, exceeding its discretionary authority in an arbitrary and capricious manner."
Colotl was arrested on the Kennesaw State University campus in 2010 and charged with impeding traffic and driving without a license. Critics of illegal immigration grew angry when they learned KSU was charging her an in-state tuition rate. Her arrest became a political flashpoint. State officials later adopted a policy requiring all universities to verify the "lawful presence" of students seeking in-state tuition. Colotl was held in an immigration detention center in Alabama for more than a month before she was given a reprieve and allowed to finish her degree in 2011 at KSU, which started charging her out-of-state tuition.
ICE revisited Colotl's case in 2016, when she sought to close her deportation proceedings so she could return to Mexico and visit her mother, who had undergone surgery. An immigration judge in Atlanta denied her request. She appealed. And the federal Board of Immigration Appeals sent her case back to Atlanta for it to be closed.
But ICE has asked an immigration judge to order her deported, saying Colotl is "an enforcement priority" under a memo the government issued in February for carrying out Trump's stringent executive orders on immigration. That memo says the government "no longer will exempt classes or categories of removable aliens from potential enforcement." Yet, as the judge highlighted in his ruling Monday, the memo does not apply to the DACA program.
Colotl’s attorney said Monday the judge’s decision comes with broader implications.
“The greater help for everybody in this case who has DACA or those who are subject to immigration rules and regulations is you can hold the government accountable,” Atlanta immigration attorney Charles Kuck said. “And sometimes it takes someone with great fortitude like Jessica to do it. But the reality is nobody should be afraid to stand up for their rights.”