ATLANTA (AP) — Protection from deportation was temporarily restored Monday to a Mexican woman who became a well-known figure in the illegal immigration debate as a college student seven years ago.
U.S. District Judge Mark Cohen ordered the federal government to temporarily reinstate Jessica Colotl's protection under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, known as DACA, while it reconsiders her eligibility. Immigration authorities last month had terminated her protected status.
The DACA program, which was created by the Obama administration in 2012, offers a reprieve from deportation to people in the country illegally who can prove they arrived before they were 16, have been in the U.S. for several years and have not committed a crime since arriving. It also allows them to work legally.
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 is focused on criminals.
Colotl, now 29, was brought to the U.S. illegally by her parents when she was 11. She became a flashpoint in the national debate over immigration reform 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 drew national attention after her sorority sisters held posters with her name on them during a march for immigration reform in Atlanta while she was detained.
She has since graduated from college and applied for DACA in 2012. Her application was granted in 2013 and was renewed two years later. She had been working as a paralegal in an immigration law firm until her DACA status was revoked and has said she wants to go to law school and to become an immigration lawyer.
A spokesman for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement said last month that Colotl's DACA status was revoked because she admitted guilt in 2011 to a felony charge of making a false statement to a law enforcement officer during the 2010 traffic stop and entered a pretrial diversion program. Colotl's attorneys, though, said that she complied with the program's terms and has no felony conviction.
Cohen wrote in his order that a government lawyer was unable during a Thursday hearing to articulate the actual reason for the revocation of her DACA status and denial of her renewal application. The government lawyer also confirmed that Colotl's pretrial diversion agreement isn't considered a felony conviction for immigration purposes, but speculated that the decision may have been based on a misdemeanor conviction for driving without a license, Cohen wrote.
Cohen wrote in his order that it appears the government failed to follow its own procedures when it revoked her DACA status and declined her application for renewal. He instructed federal authorities to reconsider the termination of Colotl's DACA status and her application for renewal. He ordered that her DACA status, including authorization to work in the U.S., be restored while that reconsideration is pending.
Cohen's order will remain in effect until the government has submitted proof that it has "followed all relevant standard operating procedures" regarding the processing of Colotl's renewal application and any termination of her DACA status.
"I'm thrilled with the court's decision and so relieved that I'll be able to get back to work tomorrow and to my life here in Georgia while the government reconsiders my application," Colotl said in an emailed statement, adding that she hopes the government will decide to grant her DACA status again after reconsidering her case.
Steve Blando, a spokesman for U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, said the agency is reviewing the judge's order.