SPLC Denounces Felony Charge Against Student, Urges Immigration Reform

The Southern Poverty Law Center today denounced the felony charge brought against a Georgia college student by a local sheriff’s department following a decision by federal immigration authorities to release her. The student, Jessica Colotl, was brought to this country as a child by her parents.

The SPLC joined a coalition of civil rights advocates supporting Colotl, 21, who is nearing graduation at Kennesaw State University just north of Atlanta. The SPLC is also urging Congress to pass comprehensive immigration reform legislation to prevent such cases in the future.

Colotl, a native of Mexico, was arrested after being pulled over for a traffic violation in March. She was turned over to federal immigration officials by the Cobb County Sheriff’s Office under its 287(g) agreement, which allows it to assist in the enforcement of federal immigration law. After immigration officials released Colotl and granted her temporary legal status, the sheriff’s office charged her with providing a false address, a felony.

"We are very concerned that the sheriff’s office brought this trumped-up charge to retaliate against Jessica for speaking out about her case," said SPLC Legal Director Mary Bauer. "Rather than abide by the decision of federal immigration officials, they’ve decided to take matters into their own hands. It’s an outrageous example of how the 287(g) program is being misused by local authorities to pursue undocumented immigrants who represent no criminal threat."

The 287(g) program was designed to allow local law enforcement to apprehend criminals who are undocumented immigrants and turn them over to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). An ICE spokesman told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution that Colotl is not “a criminal alien” and that the agency’s priority is “to remove those who pose the great risk to the security of our communities and national security.” 

"Jessica is a victim of our irrational, inhumane immigration policies," Bauer said. "Congress should act immediately to bring some sanity to this broken system."

Other members of the coalition include the American Civil Liberties Union of Georgia, Cobb Immigrant Alliance, Georgia Latino Alliance for Human Rights, Georgia Association of Latino Elected Officials and the law offices of Hernan, Taylor, and Lee.