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Civil disobedience that prompted relief program should not be grounds for denial
A young Chicago woman who came to the United States when she was six years old is suing the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) after the agency rejected the renewal of her Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) protection, citing her participation in civil disobedience actions as part of the national movement to win relief for undocumented students and stop deportations. Those actions were critical to the national movement that prompted the establishment of the DACA program.
The lawsuit filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois alleges that USCIS’s claim that Ireri Unzueta Carrasco’s participation in civil disobedience makes her a public safety threat, therefore disqualifying her from DACA protection, is inconsistent with U.S. immigration law.
“Civil disobedience is an act of love,” Ms. Unzueta Carrasco said. “I am one of hundreds of undocumented youth and adults who have shared their story and immigration status publicly, taking risks to defend the rights of our families and communities. If the Obama administration is willing to let USCIS deny my DACA renewal request, are others at risk of the same retaliation?"
In 2013, USCIS granted Ms. Unzueta Carrasco a two-year respite from fear of deportation under DACA, as well as a temporary work permit which allowed her to get a job working in an after school program for inner-city high school youth. In 2015, Ms. Unzueta Carrasco enrolled in an apprenticeship program through the city colleges to be a better instructor in her subject. However, when she applied to renew her DACA protection, USCIS took eight months to respond with a denial in August 2015, causing her to lose payment in her apprenticeship program as well as to lose two jobs opportunities. USCIS took another seven months to respond in March 2016 to inquiries about the reasoning for the denial.
In question are the three times Ms. Unzueta Carrasco was arrested but never convicted before her initial DACA was granted. She participated in peaceful protests in Washington, D.C., Chicago, and at the 2012 Democratic National Convention in North Carolina where she protested alongside her mother and father. Ms. Unzueta Carrasco was arrested once more after she obtained DACA, at a 2013 demonstration where she and others blocked Chicago’s Michigan Avenue during the president’s visit. Ms. Unzueta Carrasco has never been convicted in any of the arrests.
“Political protest is one of this country’s most cherished constitutional rights, and it is not only troubling, but unlawful, for the government to label it a public safety threat,” said NIJC Director of Litigation Chuck Roth, who represents Ms. Unzueta Carrasco in the federal lawsuit. “All of this country’s civil rights advancements have been rooted in civil disobedience where people bravely put their lives on the line to gain the attention of the powerful.”
Attorney Mony Ruiz-Velasco, director of PASO, who represents Ms. Unzueta Carrasco before USCIS added, “In the face of congressional inaction, persistent public demonstrations by immigrant communities have moved President Obama to implement DACA, which has been the largest and only immigration success of his administration. For the Obama administration to turn around and punish those who put their lives at risk to achieve this protection is without merit and wrong.”
As Ms. Unzueta Carrasco’s lawsuit was filed today, more than 120 civil and immigrant rights organizations from across the country sent a letter to DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson and USCIS Director León Rodríguez asking them to reconsider USCIS’s decision, renew Ms. Unzueta Carrasco’s DACA protection and uphold the constitutional right of political expression.