Trump administration strips Georgia woman of reprieve from deportation

May 10, 2017, Norcross - Jessica Colotl has been stripped of her temporary reprieve from deportation. DAVID BARNES/DAVID.BARNES@AJC.COM

May 10, 2017, Norcross - Jessica Colotl has been stripped of her temporary reprieve from deportation. DAVID BARNES/DAVID.BARNES@AJC.COM

Jessica Colotl, a Mexican national whose 2010 arrest in Georgia sparked a national debate over illegal immigration, has been stripped of her temporary reprieve from deportation, setting the stage for her possible expulsion.

Federal authorities revoked the Norcross woman’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals status this 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. Colotl, 28, is challenging the government’s decision in a federal court in Atlanta.

President Donald 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.

Federal authorities have stripped a former Kennesaw State University student of her protected immigration status, setting the stage for her possible deportation.

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.”

"It is completely outrageous," Colotl, a vocal advocate for a comprehensive overhaul of the nation's immigration system, told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. "On Monday when I first found out about this, I felt shock because I didn't know this could potentially happen."

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement issued a statement about her case Wednesday, saying the government has canceled DACA status for about 1,500 people since the start of the program in 2012 because of “criminality or gang affiliation concerns.”

“Deferred action does not, in any way, prevent (the Department of Homeland Security) from moving forward with execution of a removal order,” ICE spokesman Bryan Cox said.

The Lakeside High School graduate 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.

May 10, 2017, Norcross - Jessica Colotl during an interview with a reporter in Norcross, Georgia, on Wednesday, May 10, 2017. (DAVID BARNES / DAVID.BARNES@AJC.COM)

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But ICE is now asking 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."

At issue, according to ICE, is a document Colotl signed in 2011, admitting she gave Cobb County law enforcement officers a false home address.

“Ms. Colotl was subsequently allowed to enter a diversionary program by local authorities,” Cox said. “However, under federal law her guilty plea is considered a felony conviction for immigration purposes.”

Colotl said she provided her previous home address at the time, adding her family had moved to another location while she was being detained. Her attorney, Charles Kuck, denied ICE’s argument, saying it is legally incorrect.

“This actually tells DACA recipients that if you have anything in your background that the Trump administration simply wants to use to deport you and revoke your DACA, they can do it,” Kuck said.

Cobb County Sheriff Neil Warren listens to proceedings in the Jessica Colotl case. Oct. 7, 2011 Bob Andres

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Cobb County Sheriff Neil Warren, who had Colotl arrested on the felony charge of providing an incorrect address, said in 2010 that he didn’t see her as a victim.

“She violated the law when she came into the country illegally, and she violated state law by giving a false address,” Warren said. “It’s sad that her family put her in that situation, but once you become an adult, she knows right from wrong.”

Colotl said she has stopped working as a paralegal in Kuck’s office and has stopped driving since the government canceled her DACA status. About 23,700 other Georgians have been granted temporary work permits and deportation deferrals through DACA.

“It’s terrifying,” Colotl said of her experience. “It’s unfortunately what I’m going through, but there are many others who are in this situation I’m currently in.”

“We have to keep fighting for what we believe in,” she said later. “At the end of the day, we are talking about Americans — Americans at heart. It’s just a really sad situation because one day you… are spared from deportation, but you do not know what is going to happen the next day.”