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Undocumented Immigrant Rights Activist Labeled ‘Public Safety Concern’ For Protesting, Sues Government

An undocumented Chicago woman, who has been a fierce advocate for immigrant rights, was labeled a “public safety concern” by an immigration agency in the United States government. She now fears she may be deported because she engaged in acts of civil disobedience. In response, she filed a lawsuit.

Ireri Unzueta Carrasco immigrated from Mexico to the United States when she was six years-old. She was granted protection under President Barack Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) in 2013. However, the government rejected the renewal of her DACA protection.

An ombudsman for the Homeland Security Department and U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) informed Carrasco in March that her case raises “public safety concerns” because she was arrested in May 2013 and charged with “civil disobedience, resisting arrest, obstruction of traffic, and reckless conduct.” USCIS also has records showing “she engaged in civil disobedience in October 2009, July 2010, August 2011, and September 2012.”

“It was determined deferred action wasn’t appropriate in this case,” the USCIS ombudsman added. Carrasco sued.

“Civil disobedience is an act of love,” Carrasco declared. “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?”

Carrasco is 29 years-old and lives in Chicago. She completed high school and college in the U.S. She is an educator and a gardener. USCIS granted her DACA benefits from 2013 to 2015.

Essentially, DACA designated a group of young undocumented immigrants under 31 as of June 31, 2012, as low priorities so they would no longer fear deportation. That is, as long as their applications were consistently renewed under the Homeland Security Program.

Carrasco participated in a protest when Obama visited Chicago on May 31, 2013. Though she had volunteered when he ran for the U.S. Senate, she was disappointed by the record number of deportations under his administration, “including many people she knew,” according to the lawsuit [PDF].

She joined a group, which occupied Michigan Avenue. They sat down in a circle in the street and were arrested and charged for their civil disobedience. Charges were eventually dismissed.

At the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, North Carolina, in 2012, Carrasco joined others in a sit-in against deportations. It was part of the “No Papers, No Fear—Ride For Justice.” They entered an intersection and held signs with the word “undocumented.” Each person was arrested and charged with a “traffic ordinance violation for impeding traffic.” The charges against protesters were dropped.

Prior to that, on August 19, 2011, Carrasco attended a hearing in Chicago on federal immigration programs. The hearing asked “local law enforcement to use ‘detainers’ to hold non-citizens while they were taken into immigration custody. Carrasco and others engaged in a “walk-out.” They left the hearing and sat down in the street. Each person was arrested and charged with obstructing traffic but were ultimately found not guilty because “they were not actually blocking traffic.”

Carrasco was also a part of a nationally organized action on July 20, 2010, to push for the passage of the Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act. It is supposed to help undocumented youth obtain a path to U.S. citizenship. A group sat in graduation caps and gowns in the lobby of Congressional office buildings and held up a banner that said, “Undocumented and Unafraid, DREAM Act Now.”

The lawsuit indicates Carrasco was “no papered.” A U.S. attorney “declined to prosecute a criminal case against them.”

Only on one occasion did Carrasco encounter police when she was not protesting. In 2009, she was in New York City with friends. It was hot so they decided to spend the night outside in the park. Police issued Carrasco and her friends “court citations.” Charges were eventually dismissed.

The lawsuit seeks relief because it does not arise from a decision to deport Carrasco. There is no indication Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has such a plan to remove her from the country.

Additionally, the lawsuit argues the “proper legal standard” for “public safety concerns” was not applied. Nothing Carrasco did put a “large segment of the general population at risk.”

Homeland Security and USCIS first claimed the rejection was an “exercise of discretion.” When Carrasco pressed for information, it became clear it was for a “threat to public safety.” Her attorneys say this shows the rejection was not in “good faith” because it all relates to her participation in protests. In fact, the agencies have violated Carrasco’s First Amendment rights by punishing her for “political statements and actions.”

There are 144 “civil rights, immigrants rights, workers’ rights, and legal service providers” in the United States, which have requested Homeland Security reconsider its decision in Carrasco’s case.

“DHS denied Ms. Unzueta Carrasco’s DACA renewal application because of her participation in peaceful, nonviolent civil disobedience actions in support of immigrants’ rights,” a letter addressed to Homeland Security Director Jeh Johnson reads. “That DHS would consider such conduct a negative discretionary factor is shocking and goes against the values that the United States was built on, including the right to free speech and political participation protected by the U.S. Constitution.”

“Furthermore, the civil disobedience actions in which Ms. Unzueta Carrasco participated were crucial in creating the political space to deliver President Obama the largest and only immigration success of his administration. This denial sends a message that political expression in support of immigrants rights will not be tolerated – a disturbing message to send in this uncertain political time when immigrants bear the brunt of anti-immigrant and anti-refugee rhetoric.”

The organizations additionally ask Johnson to clarify that “peaceful civil disobedience as political expression” is constitutionally-protected and not a reason to label anyone a “public safety concern.”

Attorney Mony Ruiz-Velasco, director of Proyecto de Accion de los Suburbios del Oeste (PASO), represents Carrasco. She stated, “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.”

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Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola is managing editor of Shadowproof Press. He also produces and co-hosts the weekly podcast, "Unauthorized Disclosure."