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College student and illegal immigrant: Should she stay or go?

Jessica Colotl is a college student at Kennesaw State University in Georgia. She’s also an illegal immigrant, which was revealed during a traffic stop. Her case raises tough questions about immigration laws.

By Staff writer / May 14, 2010

Nara Silva, right, a Kennesaw State University student marches in tandem with other Lambda Theta Alpha sorority sisters from various colleges in support of fellow student Jessica Colotl, who is under threat of deportation, during a pro immigration rally on May, 1 in Atlanta.

John Amis/AP

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The case of Jessica Colotl – a college student who is also an illegal immigrant – is yet another flash point in America’s heated debates over immigration enforcement.

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After being stopped in March for impeding the flow of traffic on her college campus in suburban Atlanta, Ms. Colotl failed to produce a driver’s license. She soon found herself arrested and transferred to an immigration detention center.

A native of Mexico, Colotl reportedly came to the United States with her parents at age 10 and graduated from a Georgia high school. She has been attending Kennesaw State University.

After the arrest, immigration officials released her and granted “deferred action” status, giving her the opportunity to finish college in the coming year before any decision is made about deportation.

A host of advocacy groups rallied around her this week when the Cobb County Sheriff’s Office put out another warrant for her arrest, this time alleging that she had given them a false address. She turned herself in Friday and was later released after posting bond. Her immigration status will be reviewed again based on the new charges.

The case draws attention to a host of thorny issues: university admissions and tuition policies, accusations of racial profiling, and the conundrums caused when certain local, state, and national immigration policies intersect.

“None of this would be happening if Congress would act on immigration reform,” says Charles Kuck, Colotl’s immigration lawyer in Atlanta. “We have to ask our congressmen: How bad does it have to get before you have the political courage to pass immigration reform of some kind and give the country an answer to this situation?”

Mr. Kuck and the American Civil Liberties Union of Georgia fault the Cobb County Sheriff’s Office, saying it overreached in an immigration-enforcement partnership known as 287(g). Originally set up through the immigration reform act of 1996, it allows state and local law agencies to be trained to perform some federal immigration-enforcement duties.

The Department of Homeland Security reported 71 such partnerships in the US this January. Last July, it reiterated that the intent of 287(g) was to assist in removing dangerous criminal aliens rather than to arrest people for minor offenses in order to initiate deportation.

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