Chicago immigrant rights organizer and educator Nadia Sol Ireri Unzueta Carrasco has received notice that the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) has approved her request for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA). Unzueta Carrasco had previously been denied due to “public safety concerns” cited by the Chicago USCIS Ombudsman related to her participation in various civil disobedience actions for immigrant rights. She now points to other cases of undocumented organizers who are in a similar situation, in particular Lizbeth Mateo, a law school graduate and organizer whose DACA is about to be denied for reasons relating to her participation in direct action in defense of undocumented immigrant youth.
“There is no doubt in my mind that we need to continue speaking up, organizing and participating in civil disobedience. And when there is a backlash against our work, our tactics, our community members, we have come together to defend them. It’s part of our responsibility to our community and to future generations,”said Unzueta Carrasco. “When I first got the letter of denial two years ago, it said that the decision could not be appealed, like all DACA denial letters do. When USCIS e-mailed us, they said the decision had been reviewed and that it was not a mistake. When we filed the lawsuit, USCIS insisted that it was within their right to deny my DACA. As members of communities whose lives are so often in the hands of powerful government institutions like USCIS, this victory teaches us that organizing works.”
Both Unzueta Carrasco and her attorneys point to a need for USCIS to review the way they make decisions on DACA cases, particularly when it comes to denials. They point to the case of Lizbeth Mateo, a former organizer and recent law-school graduate from Los Angeles, California, who recently received a second “Notice of Intent to Deny.” USCIS claims she does not meet the requirements for DACA because of her brief absence from the country while she participated in the “Dream 9” civil disobedience, an action that brought national attention to the plight of deported immigrants and their exclusion from immigration reform.
“Lizbeth’s case is a clear example when USCIS could use their discretion in a positive manner, instead of insisting that she does not meet the criteria,” explained Mony Ruiz-Velasco, Unzueta-Carrasco’s immigration attorney and Executive Director at PASO - West Suburban Action Project. “Eligibility factors for DACA and prosecutorial discretion are not laws or regulations, they are only guidelines. USCIS and ICE must use their discretion in case-by-case determinations to approve cases based on the all the circumstances and not just on individual factors that do not tell the true story of the individuals before them.”
“We are glad that USCIS has finally done the right thing, and hope that Ireri’s courage to speak out about her unjust denial will prevent this from happening to others,” said National Immigrant Justice Center Director of Litigation Charles Roth, who represented Unzueta Carrasco in her appeal of the USCIS denial. “The activism of Ireri and other immigrant youth has been critical to holding the government accountable to fix our immigration system, and they should never be punished for exercising their First Amendment rights.”