Jessica Colotl says her life flew into turmoil after US officials revoked her protection from deportation last month. She couldn’t work. She was scared to drive. And at any moment she feared she could be deported to Mexico.
On Monday, the 28-year-old won a temporary reprieve after a federal judge ordered officials to reinstate her protections under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program while they reconsider her renewal application.
In his order, US District Judge Mark H. Cohen said US Citizenship and Immigration Services officials had not followed proper procedures when they revoked Colotl’s protections under the program last month.
Immigrant rights advocates hailed the ruling as a victory that shows officials can’t arbitrarily revoke the protections they granted to so-called Dreamers, undocumented immigrants who were brought to the United States as children.
“The court’s decision today has huge implications for all Dreamers,” said Lorella Praeli, director of immigration policy and campaigns at the American Civil Liberties Union. “The government can’t just break its promises for no reason.”
Colotl was born in Mexico and was brought to the United States by her parents 17 years ago, when she was 11 years old.
Her case first drew attention in 2010, when a traffic violation on her college campus landed her behind bars and sparked a national debate about how officials should approach Dreamers’ cases.
“Jessica is very excited to see justice prevail in this case, and remains confident that USCIS, when it actually adjudicates the DACA renewal, will, this time, follow the correct procedures in making its decision,” attorney Charles Kuck said in a written statement after the judge’s ruling on Monday.
A spokeswoman for the US Department of Justice declined to comment, describing the case as a pending matter.
‘From having a normal life to basically being paralyzed’
Colotl filed a federal lawsuit last month after officials denied her renewal application and revoked her protections under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which the Obama administration created in 2012.
The DACA program provides so-called Dreamers with temporary work authorization and protection from deportation for renewable two-year periods.
More than three-quarters of a million people have been granted DACA status since the program began.
President Trump has sent mixed messages about the program’s future. He decried it on the campaign trail, but struck a softer tone once he took office.
To date, the program remains in place.
In the first three months of 2017, officials approved more than 100,000 DACA applications, 17,275 initial applications and 107,524 renewals, according to statistics released last week. And officials have repeatedly stressed that they’re not targeting Dreamers for deportation.
Colotl told reporters last week that she was shocked to learn she’d been kicked out of the DACA program.
“I was devastated by it, because I knew that it would destroy my life, and it did that,” she said. “I went in a matter of seconds from having a normal life to basically being paralyzed.”
Judge: Officials must follow established procedures
Immigration officials initially said Colotl’s protections had been revoked because she admitted guilt to a 2011 charge of making a false statement to law enforcement.
Colotl’s attorneys denied that accusation, arguing that the Trump administration had tried to make an example of Colotl, who has become an outspoken advocate for immigrant rights.
Government attorneys conceded in court last week that Colotl hadn’t pleaded guilty. But they also argued that doesn’t matter, saying that officials have the discretion to decide who to accept into the program.
In his order on Monday, Cohen said officials do have discretion, but also said they must follow their own established procedures as they weigh applications.
Colotl described the judge’s ruling as amazing.
“It will set a precedent for other cases like mine,” she said.