Columns

Gutierrez: DHS Secretary 'Lied' to Lawmakers About Protecting DREAMers

In this photo taken April 28, 2011, Jessica Colotl, an illegal immigrant and student at Kennesaw State University, is seen after a media interview at her lawyer's office in Atlanta (AP Photo/John Amis)

WASHINGTON – Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill.) accused Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly of lying to the Congressional Hispanic Caucus about his agency’s deportation policy.

“He lied to the Democratic Caucus. He has lied. He says [DREAMers] are fine, that they are safe and he always tells how much he is protecting them. Well, you’ve got a chance, Secretary Kelly, to be true to your word and to what you said. You said you are fighting for them against others that want to abolish – that’s what told us. Well, you want to know something? Here’s your time to step up, secretary,” Gutierrez said on a conference call organized by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and United We Dream about the case of Jessica Colotl, an immigrant from Georgia whose Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) status has been rescinded.

“For everyone in this country, this is a federal established issue, everybody knows about DACA and supports it overwhelmingly – and Americans want legality and they want accountability in our immigration system and they reject mass deportation programs,” he added.

Gutierrez said the only place where deporting DREAMers like Colotl “seems like a good idea” is in the “far corners of the Republican Party in Congress, the Oval Office and the right-wing media.”

“It’s not the fantasy of mass deportation or making people so miserable that they decide to leave. This isn’t going to happen – 5 to 10 million people aren’t going to just pick up and leave no matter what Trump or [Steve] Bannon say or think,” he said. “Excluding immigrants from society because they lack papers is also a very self-defeating process. Jessica and DREAMers like her, look, this is the only country they really know and all of them have made their lives here, so we owe it to ourselves to take the limits off of their potential and to remove the paper ceiling that holds them back.”

Colotl was arrested in 2010 for driving without a license. She later qualified to apply for DACA status and subsequently received a work permit as well as a driver’s license. Colotl said she was shocked when her legal status under the DACA program was withdrawn under the new administration.

“I came to the United States from Mexico when I was 11 years old, and I’ve lived my entire adult life in Atlanta. I went to college here and helped found a chapter of a Latin sorority for Latina women,” Colotl said on the conference call, before describing some of the volunteer work she has done in her community. “With DACA, I knew I could work, drive, plan for my future, and live a full life in the only country that feels like home for me. Ever since I’ve been given DACA, I’ve been giving back to the community, as I mentioned. I became a paralegal in an immigration law firm and I am saving money to go to law school.”

Colotl said her whole life was “taken” from her when she lost her DACA status. She asked President Trump to “protect DREAMers the way he promised he would.”

“I had been granted DACA before and nothing about my circumstances have changed since then. They are about roughly 750-780,000 people like me who have DACA. All of them are feeling scared right now. Their whole lives depend on this program and they are worried that this can be taken away at any moment,” she said.

Gutierrez said Trump is getting “too much credit” for not formally abolishing the DACA program.

“Donald Trump, I’m thinking here a moment, he met with the DREAMers during the campaign, and I think that absolutely played a role in softening him on DREAMers, but you know what? He is getting too much credit for not abolishing DACA. Everybody’s like, ‘Give Trump credit for not abolishing DACA.’ But DACA-recipients are still being targeted by Trump and Kelly,” he said. “We’ve got to fight for Jessica and other young Americans like her.”