An undocumented immigrant filed a lawsuit last week against U.S. immigration authorities, claiming that they denied the renewal of her immigration status as retaliation for her political activity.
Ireri Unzueta Carrasco, a 29-year-old who emigrated to the U.S. from Mexico when she was a child, applied in 2013 for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), which provides a two-year reprieve from deportation, and it was granted to her, despite a long history of arrests at demonstrations.
But when Unzueta Carrasco tried to renew her immigration status last year she was denied, with the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) referring to her previous civil disobedience arrests and saying that, "Unzueta's case raised public safety concerns," according to her lawsuit.
Unzueta Carrasco believes that she is being targeted for her activism and is suing USCIS, the Department of Homeland Security, and the officer and director who had authority over her case to reverse the decision.
“There are hundreds of undocumented people who have participated in acts of civil disobedience to protect their communities, and I do not want them to be targeted for their acts of political expression," Unzueta Carrasco said last week during a press conference, according to the Chicago Tribune.
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has not yet initiated deportation proceedings against Unzueta.
Unzueta Carrasco moved to the U.S. when she was 6 years old. She attended Chicago’s Whitney Young Magnet High School before going on to study at the University of Illinois at Chicago.
The young activist has been arrested five times since 2009 – four times during immigration rallies or protests and once for sleeping on a bench in a New York park. None of the arrests resulted in a conviction.
Unzueta Carrasco says her arrests were exercises of free expression and that participating in the protests was "an act of survival" for her and others in her situation. Her first arrest for protesting came in 2010, when she and other immigrants held sit-ins in congressional office buildings to lobby for the DREAM Act, a failed piece of legislation that would have created a path to legal status for young immigrants.
"In the past, when we were organizing different actions, I always heard that the people that were U.S. citizens should be the ones taking the risks, because they would be safe," she said. "For me, participating in 2010 was a very empowering action."
U.S. authorities say that there are a number of reasons a person may be denied DACA renewal, including a felony conviction, a major misdemeanor, three or more separate misdemeanors or if they are perceived as a threat to national security or public safety.
USCIS told Fox News Latino that it does not comment on open or individual cases.
Immigration lawyers say they have seen people in the past have their DACA applications denied – mostly having to do with criminal convictions – and that much of the outcome of someone’s application, as well as the reasons why, is up to the discretion of the immigration official involved.
"The immigration laws are extremely unforgiving; there is so much that appears to be discretion wrapped into decision-making," Michael Jarecki, a Chicago immigration attorney who helps file DACA applications, told the Tribune. "When you're looking at somebody or a group adjudicating [a case] that might be using discretion based on his or her political leanings ... there's no way to know who these officers are."
DACA was initiated by President Barack Obama in 2012, and it allows undocumented immigrants who came to the U.S. before they were 16 to work here legally. It must be renewed every two years.