Hope for Immigration Reform: Kennesaw State and Highland Park

ksustudent-HS01_600974cCusco In the last several days two separate, but in my view, related events in very, very different parts of the country are starting what it takes to create change: make reform impossible to avoid because it’s too close to home! First, the girls’ basketball team in the Chicago suburb of Highland Park voted to boycott Arizona, stop their bake sales and not go to Scottsdale for their tournament. Secondly, there were again loud protests at Kennesaw State in George over the arrest and potential deportation of one of their fellow 21-year old senior students close to graduation. Different parts of the country, but the same theme – something has to be done about immigration reform. I bet they are related in ways that are less than obvious as well. I would bet money that the girls basketball team in Highland Park knows fellow students who are undocumented and are standing in solidarity with their friends just as the supposedly rock-rimmed conservative campus of Kennesaw State did in Georgia, a thousand miles away.

The Kennesaw story is also about the continued abuse that President Obama and Secretary Napolitano are allowing of the 287g program since the local yokel sheriff turned upside down a deal between ICE and the student because he got bent out of shape about a wrong address somewhere in the file. Heck, bubba, she’d already admitted to no docs, what did you expect a pristine passport or something. She was on a study release deal with ICE to roll out after graduation, but you have to get all out of shape.

Arizona over and over again and soon there will be hundreds and thousands of these very local fights about the immigration status of people we know and love. And, it will cost votes and it will build a movement. Where will you be then, Mr. President?

Since it’s a story about Georgia, I’m betting many have missed it, but here’s to the kids in Highland Park and Kennesaw State – lead on, brothers and sisters, lead on!

Kennesaw State student leaves Cobb jail

By Rhonda Cook and Andria Simmons

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
12:55 p.m. Friday, May 14, 2010

The Kennesaw State University student at the center of a heated debate
over immigration left the Cobb County jail late Friday morning. Jessica
Colotl had turned herself in earlier Friday. She posted bond, which had
been set at $2,500, and left the jail, accompanied by her attorney, around
11:40 a.m.

Cobb County Sheriff Neal Warren secured a warrant to arrest Colotl, 21,
Wednesday night on charges of lying on a jail booking form. A KSU officer
had arrested Colotl in March for driving without a license.

She was taken into custody by Immigration and Customs Enforcement but a
month later, at the urging of KSU, Colotl's friends and advocacy groups,
ICE agreed to defer her case until she completed her degree. She was
released from a federal detention center in Alabama and allowed to return
to the metro Atlanta area.

Warren said he issued the arrest warrant this week after learning that
Colotl gave a false Duluth address when she was booked into the jail for
the traffic violation in March.

In another development Friday, federal immigration officials said they
will revisit the decision to defer the case against Colotl.

Ivan Ortiz-Delgado, spokesman for the federal department of Immigration
and Customs Enforcement, told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution on Friday
the recent charges brought against Colotl will require the agency to
reconsider her status.

"The charges brought against her changed the conditions" that led to ICE's
decision to defer her case and release her from custody, Ortiz-Delgado
said.

"ICE will review Ms. Colotl's case agian and make an appropriate
determination. However, that has not happened yet," Ortiz-Delgado said.

Her attorney, Chris Taylor, and advocates will hold a news conference
Friday afternoon. It is not known if Colotl will attend.

But Taylor said in a  statement Thursday that he did not foresee any
complications in her posting bond and being released from jail.

"It is obvious from all the documents that I’ve seen that she has done
nothing wrong and has given her proper address to Cobb County and
immigration officials," Taylor said. "There has been no crime committed.
Jessica looks forward to defending herself against these false and
baseless charges.”

The American Civil Liberties Union on Friday accused Warren of  "misplaced
priorities and abusing the power granted to him" by the 287(g) program,
which trains local law enforcement officers to work with federal
authorities in identifying illegal immigrants who are arrested. The
Georgia ACLU office has asked the Department of Homeland Security Civil
Rights and Civil Liberties Division and the Department of Justice Civil
Rights Division to look at the case.

“Jessica’s case is yet another outrageous example of the unaccountable
local enforcement of immigration laws in Cobb County gone awry,” said
Azadeh Shahshahani, ACLU of Georgia National Security/Immigrants’ Rights
Project director. “It is past time to put an immediate end to the 287(g)
program in Cobb, which has led to racial profiling and the targeting of
hard-working members of the community, the separation of families and the
creation of an atmosphere of terror among immigrant communities in Cobb.
287(g) in Cobb has led to a less safe community for us all.”

Nancy Bodiford, a spokeswoman for the Sheriff's Office, said authorities
were tipped off about the false address by a member of the media and that
led to the arrest warrant. A reporter went to the residence listed on
Colotl's public booking records and discovered she did not live there. The
reporter was not identified.

Workers in the leasing office for the Duluth apartment complex at the
address on the arrest warrant told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution on
Thursday that they didn't have anything "to share at this time."

Colotl, a Mexico native, has been in the United States for much of her
life, coming here with her parents when she was 10. Friends said the
family moved often until Colotl graduated from DeKalb County's Lakeside
High School in 2006 with a 3.8 grade-point average.

Her troubles began March 29 when she was stopped on the KSU campus and
charged with impeding the flow of traffic. She reportedly told the officer
she had a Mexican driver's license but could not find it; she offered him
a Mexican passport that expired in August 2007 as identification. While
driving without a license is a relatively minor offense, making a false
statement is a felony with a maximum punishment of five years in prison
and a $1,000 fine.

The student, who will turn 22 next week, was arrested the next day, taken
to the Cobb County jail and handed over to immigration authorities under
an agreement the county has with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement,
the 287(g) program.

Colotl was then taken to the Etowah Detention Center in Alabama to await
deportation.

At the urging of KSU President Daniel Papp, she was released May 1 and the
federal immigration agency, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, gave her
a year’s reprieve so she could complete her degree. Friends say she is two
semesters away from graduating.

ICE spokesman Ivan Ortiz said Colotl was granted "deferred action" status,
which did not change her immigration status but effectively delays her
deportation. If conditions change, she could be placed back into removal
proceedings.

Ortiz said ICE is waiting to assess the new charge before any decisions
are made.

"Our priority is to remove those who pose the great risk to the security
of our communities and national security," he said. "In this case, this
woman is not a criminal alien. That does not mean we are going to look the
other way and we are not going to process her. But our priority is the
removal of dangerous convicted criminal aliens."

Colotl's situation has sparked debate between human rights groups and
advocates for stronger immigration laws.

Human rights organizations and Latino community groups decried the
sheriff's actions as being a "witch hunt" and a waste of money.

“We are very concerned that Cobb County is taking action against Jessica
in retaliation for speaking out," said Mary Bauer, the legal director of
the Southern Poverty Law Center. "We think these actions are illegal, and
we’ll be in looking into that closely. This highlights the urgent need for
Congress to reform our broken immigration system.”

D.A. King, an outspoken critic of what he says is lax enforcement of
immigration laws, said the major concern is Colotl's enrollment at a
public university.

"The focus of these violations should be on the Board of Regents [of the
University System of Georgia]," he said. "The young lady who was in this
country illegally is by far the most sympathetic figure in this mess."

University System spokesman John Millsaps with the university system said
college applications ask about citizenship but there is no process for
verifying it if the would-be students says they are a U.S. citizen. The
question of immigration status becomes an issue only if a college
applicant says he is from another country. Out-state-students and exchange
students pay four times the in-state rate and Colotl was assumed to be a
Georgia resident because she graduated from a DeKalb County high school.

Papp has said that Colotl will now be charged out-of-state tuition.

Others argued over whether a federal program that trains local law
enforcement on immigration enforcement is Draconian or a necessary tool
that should be applied the same for everyone.

Cobb was the first law enforcement agency in Georgia and one of a few
nationwide to be accepted into the federal 287(g) program, an agreement
with immigration officials to check the status of everyone taken into the
jail. Cobb just renewed its contract with the federal government in
October.

The 287(g) program was designed to find violent illegal immigrants, but
critics say it more often catches minor offenders such as those violating
traffic laws.

Debbie Seagraves with the Georgia office of the American Civil Liberties
Union said local law enforcement abuses the program and the handling of
Colotl was evidence of that.

Warren, the Cobb sheriff, defended the program in a written statement
Thursday.

“I value any tool that helps me enforce the law and remove violators from
our community," he said.

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