Colotl back in jail

The Kennesaw State University graduate whose close scrape with deportation kindled a national debate about illegal immigrants in public colleges went back to jail Monday to serve the last few hours of a three-day sentence for driving without a license.

Cobb County State Court Judge Kathryn J. Tanksley credited Jessica Colotl with the time she served when she was arrested in March 2010, which was about two and a half days. She was expected to serve 11 hours Monday and be released around 8:30 p.m.

Colotl still has to serve 11 months and 27 days on probation, pay a $1,000 fine plus about $400 in surcharges, and perform 20 hours of community service. Tanksley told Colotl that the state Department of Driver Services might also temporarily suspend her license because of the misdemeanor conviction, but "I'll leave that up to DDS to determine."

Colotl's attorneys had appealed her November 2010 conviction and lost.

Her defense attorney, Jerome Lee, said he was disappointed the judge did not let her serve the last few hours of her sentence by sitting in the courtroom. He said the tense political climate surrounding illegal immigration has put a spotlight on Colotl's case and that judges in conservative Cobb County are under pressure to punish her. Colotl's parents brought her from Mexico to the U.S. illegally when she was about 10 or 11.

"The reality is, judges are elected and are subject to the whims of their constituents," Lee said.

Lee said Cobb County Superior Court Judge Mary Staley still has not signed off on a dismissal order regarding Colotl's charge of false swearing, even though she completed a pretrial diversion program in February. The program allowed Colotl to avoid a felony conviction for lying to deputies about her address when she was being booked into jail for driving without a license. She performed 150 hours of community service and reported to the District Attorney's Office once or twice a month for five months.

Phil Kent, an anti-illegal immigration activist who is on the state's new Immigration Enforcement Review Board, said it is an injustice that Colotl was allowed pretrial diversion. He believes it was appropriate that she should serve the rest of her misdemeanor sentence.

"She can't be treated differently than a legal resident or a U.S. citizen," Kent said.

Colotl has been granted three year-long deportation deferments since her arrest brought her to the brink of deportation. A KSU police officer pulled Colotl over for blocking the traffic flow, and she was jailed for driving without a license. She was handed over to federal immigration officers as part of a local-federal partnership called 287(g), which allows Cobb County deputies to check the immigration status of inmates.

The Obama administration this month issued an executive order to defer deportation for people under age 31 who were brought to the country as children if they have no criminal record, pose no security risk, and are pursuing an education.

Since graduating from KSU last spring, Colotl has been living in Gwinnett County with an aunt and working for her immigration attorney as a paralegal assistant.