During the two-hour forum, more than 50 people - excluding Colotl - crowded into a meeting room at the Vinings Branch of the Cobb County Library to listen to five panelist answer questions about illegal immigration.
Most of the panelists' supported strict reform of immigration laws, including the eradication of programs like 287(g), an agreement Cobb County has with the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency to check the immigration status of everyone booked into the county jail.
"287(g) is unreformable. 278(g) has been co-opted and abused by Cobb County Sheriff Neil Warren, Wild West Warren, which I say with disdain, not as a compliment. As well as Butch Conway in Gwinnett County," said Jerry Gonzalez, executive director of the Georgia Association of Latino Elected Officials. "We're talking about what could potentially happen in Arizona and we're worried and we're upset and we're angry about it. You know what? In Georgia, that's already the reality. The police are abusing their power. The Cobb County Sheriff is abusing his power; the Gwinnett County Sheriff is abusing his power; as demonstrated by going after this young lady, Jessica Colotl."
Many KSU students who supported Colotl asked what form of comprehensive immigration reform the panelist preferred and how far they were willing to go to fight for the rights of illegal immigrants.
Gonzalez responded that while he and his organization do not favor unlimited immigration, there needs to be a sensible way for the government to enforce the laws, and that illegal workers should be legalized.
Angela Flores, a KSU alumna and co-founder of the Mexican American Student Association, said, "Most people don't understand in Jessica's case she was brought here as a child, and there was no way for her to become a citizen. So don't ask why she didn't become a citizen. Don't ask why, you know, she is illegal. Because there was no path to citizenship. And there is no path to citizenship for so many people today."
Colotl, 21, was stopped on KSU campus March 29 for a traffic violation and later arrested for driving without a valid license. She was turned over to immigration authorities after it was discovered that she was in the country illegally, entering with her parents at an early age. She was taken to the Etowah County Detention Center in Gadsden, Ala., on April 1, but was released May 5. Immigration and Customs Enforcement authorities agreed to defer any action against her for one year so she could return to her studies at the university.
On May 12, the Cobb Sheriff's Office obtained a warrant for Colotl on a felony charge of lying to law-enforcement officials, based on a reportedly false address she provided upon her book-in at the Cobb County Jail in March. On May 14, Colotl turned herself into Cobb authorities and was released on a $2,500 bond.
Rich Pellegrino, director of the Cobb Immigration Alliance, said Colotl wanted to come to the forum, but her lawyers warned against it because of the media attention it could attract.
The forum was originally scheduled for KSU's campus, but a spokesman from the Cobb Immigrant Alliance claimed a group of tenured professors at the university protested that location. In response to the claims, university officials provided a June 2 letter addressed to MASA President Pablo Valle saying that since the program was not a fully student-led forum, the group of sponsors would have to go through a different process to use the university's facilities. The letter said that university officials offered to reserve a place for the forum while the sponsor group went through the process of reserving a spot on the campus, but the groups decided to go elsewhere for the event.
The other panelists at Tuesday's forum included Charles Muhammad, president of the Cobb United for Change Coalition, Gerald Rose, president and founder of New Order National Human Rights Organization, and Matthew Cole, a KSU student and chairman of the KSU Libertarian Student Association. Professor Devin Robinson of Oglethorpe University was the panelist moderator.