For the second time in six months, a federal judge in Atlanta has issued an order preserving the immigration status of Jessica Colotl, the Kennesaw State University graduate whose 2010 arrest sparked a national debate over undocumented immigrants attending public college.
Colotl, a Mexican national who was brought to the United States as an 11-year-old, was arrested for driving without a license while studying at KSU. Her charges spurred deportation proceedings against her.
In June 2012, the Obama administration introduced a new federal immigration policy dubbed Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, which sought to protect undocumented immigrants brought to the United States as children, like Colotl, from deportation. The program offers undocumented immigrants a renewable two-year period of deferment from deportation while allowing them to continue working legally.
But the two-year work permit Colotl needs to work and live in the country has twice been denied.
An injunction signed last week by U.S. District Court Judge Mark Cohen calls for the 28-year-old’s DACA status and employment authorization status to remain in place — at least temporarily.
The order comes just months after Cohen issued a first injunction maintaining Colotl’s legal immigration status and ordering federal immigration agencies to revisit her DACA renewal application. The June filing maintains the agencies didn’t follow their own protocol when Colotl’s latest application was denied and her work permit was suspended in May.
“Despite the fact that Ms. Colotl’s circumstances had not changed during the four years she was a DACA recipient, (Department of Homeland Security) suddenly terminated Ms. Colotl’s DACA and denied her application for renewal on the grounds that she did not meet the program’s eligibility criteria,” the federal filing reads.
Cohen temporarily renewed Colotl’s DACA status and set a Nov. 9 hearing in her case.
Jerry Gonzalez, director of the Georgia Association of Latino Elected Officials, praised the judge’s move as the right one.
“It goes to show the Trump administration is not following appropriate protocol and it was enough for the judge to rule in favor of Jessica and keep her here,” he said Tuesday.
In September, Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced the Trump administration would rescind DACA. The president gave Congress six months to address the issue and come up with a plan for immigration reform. But the announcement that DACA would end caused concern among the nearly 800,000 people who rely on the program to stay in the country legally.
Among them is Dayana Salinas, a 30-year-old Smyrna resident who graduated from Osborne High School.
Salinas was brought to the U.S. from Mexico when she was just 5. Now, she relies on DACA to live and work in the U.S. alongside her friends and family members. Her work permit expired shortly after Sessions’ said the administration would end DACA, but Salinas said her documents have since been renewed another two years.
“I was worried because all my documents were going to expire that weekend,” she said. “Everything is set to expire again in two years, but I’m still kind of confused as to what’s going to happen in the next six months. I’m happy and I’m thankful, but I’m not sure what’s going to happen next.”
Dee Gay, president of the Cobb County Republican Women’s Club, said while she can sympathize with Colotl’s plight, she is in the country illegally.
“I think she should go home for a while and then try to come back legally,” Gay said. “There’s a right way to do things and a wrong way to do things, especially when it comes to the law.”
Gay said undocumented immigrants are supported by Georgia’s taxpayers to the tune of $2 billion annually. And because DACA was only an executive order, she said the Trump administration is right to do away with it.
“This is a country of laws,” said Gay, who was born in Puerto Rico. “People should obey the law.”
But Gonzalez said it’s high time for Congress to get together and pass legislation that will settle the issue once and for all, and keep America’s young immigrants from having to live in limbo.
“Congress is abdicating its responsibility to pass any type of immigration reform,” he said. “I think there is an opportunity for Congress to actually accomplish something, and this is one thing where there is broad bipartisan support. … There are tens of thousands of young people who are impacted by these decisions. I think it is a moral obligation for Congress to act.”
Salinas said she, too, hopes federal lawmakers will come together for the hundreds of thousands like her who are uncertain about the future.
“They really haven’t tackled this issue at all,” she said. “They just kind of put it on the back burner. I know my permit was renewed, but what happens if it is taken away?”