KSU grad may face more jail time over 2010 traffic violationAttorney: Leniency may face public resistance
By Andria Simmons
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
ATLANTA, Ga — Jessica Colotl --- the former Kennesaw State University student whose close scrape with deportation sparked nationwide debate about illegal immigrants in public colleges --- may soon be back in jail, if only for a day.
She is set to appear before Cobb County State Court Judge Kathryn J. Tanksley at 9 a.m. next Monday. The judge will determine whether Colotl, now 24 and working as a paralegal assistant, has to serve the remaining 11 or so hours of a three-day sentence she received for a November 2010 conviction for driving without a license. Colotl served some of that sentence when she was initially arrested on the misdemeanor charge, according to Cobb County Sheriff's spokeswoman Nancy Bodiford.
She also was sentenced to 11 months and 27 days on probation and fined $1,000.
Colotl's attorneys appealed the conviction, halting the imposition of the sentence. They argued that since Colotl had obtained a learner's permit in the interim between her arrest and her court hearing, she should not be punished.
However, the Georgia Court of Appeals in November denied the appeal, and the state Supreme Court declined to review the case in January.
The case was sent back to the trial court for disposition May 15.
Colotl said Monday, "I am positive that everything will have a great outcome and this will be resolved once and for all."
Her defense attorney, Jerome Lee, said he might ask the judge to allow Colotl to spend the day sitting in the courtroom instead of a jail cell.
However, he said there could be some public resistance to Colotl receiving any latitude, especially since her return to court follows so closely on the heels of a controversial change in the national immigration policy as it pertains to young people like Colotl who were brought into the country illegally as children.
Colotl's parents brought her from Mexico to the U.S. illegally when she was about 10 or 11 years old.
The Obama administration last week issued an executive order to defer deportation for people under 31 years old who were brought to the country as children if they have no criminal record, pose no security risk and are pursuing an education.
While immigrant advocacy groups praised the decision, many Republicans were outraged.
In the Republican bastion of Cobb County, Colotl has been a polarizing figure because of her immigration status and because she is a vocal supporter of the DREAM Act --- federal legislation that would provide a path to citizenship for undocumented students.
"People are going to be in quite the tizzy to make sure she is punished," Lee predicted.
However, Cobb County Assistant Solicitor Rachel Plevak said she did not expect the immigration debate to have an impact on Colotl's sentence.
In March 2010, a KSU police officer pulled Colotl over for blocking the traffic flow in a campus parking lot, and she was arrested for driving without a valid driver's license.
Bill Inman, whose 16-year-old son, Dustin, was killed and whose wife was crippled 12 years ago in an automobile accident involving an illegal immigrant near Elijay, said Colotl and others like her need to be held responsible for driving without a license.
"They know they are here illegally," Inman said. "Granted, she may have come over with her parents, but they made a decision to be here."
When Colotl was arrested, she was handed over to the custody of federal immigration officers as part of a local-federal partnership called 287(g), which allows Cobb County deputies to check the immigration status of inmates. After 37 days in a detention center, she was granted a one-year deportation deferment to finish her studies.
The federal government granted her another yearlong deferment when she graduated from KSU last year, and in May, Colotl received a third yearlong deferment. Her immigration attorney, Charles Kuck, said her immigration status will probably be converted into a two-year deferment when the president's new policies are put in place.
Colotl said the executive order is a Band-Aid for a larger problem.
"My case is just one of many cases across the nation," Colotl said. "We continue to see this pretty often, and it shows there is a problem that the federal government needs to solve right away."