Students staged a protest Friday outside North Miami High School for valedictorian Daniela Peláez, who as ordered by a judge this week to leave the country. The 18-year-old Peláez was brought to the United States from Colombia by her parents when she was 4.
A federal immigration judge issued the order for voluntary departure on Monday after Peláez's green-card request was denied. (Story by Paradise Afshar and Laura Isensee here.)
Though Peláez's deportation is not imminent, students protested on her behalf to draw attention to Peláez's case. And at least one member of Congress has taken notice.
Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, a Miami Republican, said in a statement Friday that she has sent U.S. Immigration & Customs Enforcement a letter asking the agency to intervene and stay Peláez's deportation.
"Congress needs to pass the Dream Act so that many young people can form part of our armed forces or attend college and contribute to our generous and great nation," Ros-Lehtinen said. "There are many such desperate cases in our community and, instead of causing such anxiety we can allow these teenagers to realize their dreams in a legal manner."
Ros-Lehtinen also said she met a student in a similar situation as Peláez earlier this week at Miami Jackson Senior High. The Dream Act would allow undocumented immigrants who came to the United States as children and who are students or serving in the military to obtain legal status.
Read Ros-Lehtinen's letter here.
UPDATE: Sen. Bill Nelson, a Florida Democrat, has also chimed in on the case, asking homeland security and immigration officials to explain Peláez's potential deportation.
"Given that the chief missions of our immigration enforcement are national security, public safety and securing our borders, how is it we have the time and resources to target a high-school honor student like Daniela?" Nelson asked in a letter to Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano. See Nelson's letter after the jump.
UPDATE #2: Sen. Marco Rubio, a Florida Republican, issued a statement saying his office would reach out to Peláez's lawyer to learn more about her case. "I have always said that our country needs to figure o ut a way to accommodate high academic achievers brought here at a very young age by their parents but who now find themselves undocumented through no fault of their own," Rubio said. Read his full statement after the jump.
More from Rubio: "From what I've read in press accounts, the story of Daniela Pelaez is exactly the kind of case I have been talking about. It's the kind of real life example I've discussed with many of my colleagues who agree that we should find a way to help talented kids like this. We will be reaching out to her attorney to learn more about this case. And I will continue working to find a bipartisan solution for young students who find themselves in this predicament."
March 2, 2012
The Honorable Janet Napolitano
Secretary of Homeland Security
United States Department of Homeland Security
Washington, D.C. 20528
Dear Secretary Napolitano,
It has come to my attention that Daniela Pelaez and her sister Dayana Pelaez face deportation. Daniela and her sister are Floridians who reportedly were brought to the United States as young children by their parents in the 1990s.
They now face deportation.
Given that the chief missions of our immigration enforcement are national security, public safety and securing our borders, how is it we have the time and resources to target a high-school honor student like Daniela? Based on publicly available information so far, it doesn’t seem like deporting her and her sister lines up with any of these primary goals of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). If it does, I’d like to request an explanation from your office.
Daniela reportedly is an honor student who is in international baccalaureate classes at North Miami High School. She’s valedictorian of her class and has applied to some of the best colleges in America. According to media reports, teachers and fellow students are shocked that Daniela could be deported back to Colombia, and have rallied behind her in support.
I am writing to ask that her case be handled in keeping with ICE Director John Morton’s memo to field office directors, special agents-in-charge and chief counsels, dated June 17, 2011. The memo outlined a policy urged by me and some of my Senate colleagues wanting broader discretion to prioritize cases and defer deportation when it doesn’t reflect ICE’s chief missions, as stated above. In my opinion, an honors student and valedictorian should not be a prime target.
Cc: Director John Morton
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement
500 12th St., SW
Washington, D.C. 20536