Deportation protection restored in high-profile Georgia case

Federal immigration authorities have agreed to renew the temporary protection from deportation for a Mexican woman whose case made national headlines eight years ago when she was a Georgia college student, according to a court filing.

The settlement agreement signed Monday and filed Friday in federal court in Atlanta is the latest twist in 30-year-old Jessica Colotl's quest to stay in the country she has called home for nearly two decades.

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"I am now safe at work and can fully get back to the life I had worked so hard to build here in Georgia with peace of mind," Colotl said in a news release Friday. "I hope the government finally sees that I just wish to have what everyone else has - stability and security that my home won't be taken away from me."

Colotl became a reluctant symbol in the national debate over immigration as a college student 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 detained her for 37 days.

While she was still locked up, her sorority sisters carried posters with her name on them during a march for immigration reform in May 2010, garnering extensive news coverage. Her case was regularly cited by advocates on both sides of the immigration debate.

Colotl, who was brought to the U.S. illegally by her parents from Puebla, Mexico, when she was 11, went on to graduate. In 2012 she applied for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, program. Her application was granted in 2013 and successfully renewed.

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The DACA program created by former President Barack Obama's administration offered a reprieve from deportation to people in the country illegally who could prove they arrived before they were 16, had been in the U.S. for several years and had not committed a crime since arriving.

Hundreds of thousands of people have been temporarily shielded by the program. President Donald Trump announced the end of DACA in September, but federal courts have forced the administration to continue providing its protections as a legal battle over it continues.

In early May 2017, Colotl learned immigration authorities had revoked her DACA status and denied her latest renewal application. The American Civil Liberties Union, the ACLU of Georgia and Kuck Baxter Immigration sued immigration authorities, saying they had arbitrarily terminated Colotl's DACA status and rejected her renewal application.

Immigration authorities said at the time that her DACA status was revoked because she admitted guilt in 2011 to a felony charge of making a false statement to a law enforcement officer and entered a pretrial diversion program. Colotl's attorneys, though, said that she complied with the program's terms and has no felony conviction.

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Government attorneys in June acknowledged that Colotl did complete the pretrial diversion program in 2011 but contended that agencies have broad discretion to review immigration and deportation cases.

A federal judge in June ordered the government to reconsider the termination of Colotl's DACA status and her application for renewal and to reinstate her protection and work authorization in the meantime.

Government lawyers wrote in a court filing in October that they had reviewed their decision and again decided not to renew Colotl's DACA protection. Her lawyers challenged that and the two sides signed a settlement agreement this week that extends her DACA protection at least through May 9, 2019.

Immigration attorney Charles Kuck, who has represented Colotl since 2010 and who employs her, said she's an amazing paralegal with remarkable empathy.

"Jessica is exactly who she appears to be - kind, honest, and the type of person we want and need in the United States," he said in and emailed statement. "When the government violates people's rights, no one should be afraid to stand up for what is right and just. Jessica stood up, and she was right. Today, justice prevailed."

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