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High School Valedictorian Fights Deportation

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A Miami high school valedictorian ordered deported to her native Colombia is inspiring a groundswell of community support, protests and media coverage.

Daniela Pelaez, 18, who is enrolled in the international baccalaureate program at North Miami High School, dreams of becoming a heart surgeon. But that dream is now threatened: A judge recently ordered that she and her sister to be deported on March 28. Daniela was brought to the United States when she was four years old and overstayed a tourist visa.

The case once again puts the spotlight on the DREAM Act, and the many undocumented immigrant students who would benefit from a path to legal status if they pursue a postsecondary degree.

NBC Miami reported that last Friday, several thousand people–including students and teachers–joined a walkout protest at North Miami High School. Miami-Dade Superintendent of Schools Alberto Carvalho left the school holding Daniela’s hand. ”Over my dead body will this child be deported,” he told the crowd, the station reported.

Daniela also has spoken out regarding her case, saying she doesn’t remember Colombia. ”I’ve been asked the question before: ‘Do I feel American?’ or ‘Do I believe I am?’” Pelaez told NBC. “And I don’t think it’s a question. I’m American. I know the national anthem. I know the laws. I know what it is to be an American.”

Tampa Bay Online reports that local politicians have spoken out in support of her case. Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Florida, wants Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials to reverse the decision. Even Senator Marco Rubio, R-Florida, who has spoken out against the DREAM Act, supports Daniela’s cause

President Obama has repeatedly spoken in support of the DREAM Act and last summer announced a policy intended to lessen deportations of undocumented immigrants who are not criminals. The policy was intended to help minors brought to the U.S. as children. But The New York Times has reported that the policy has been applied unevenly, with some deportations halted and others proceeding forward. It’s unclear whether federal officials will reverse the decision in Daniela’s case.