Pelaez gains two-year deportation reprieve
By Hannah Wang
Published on Friday, April 27, 2012
Last weekend, Daniela Pelaez, who has committed to Dartmouth as a member of the Class of 2016 and whom news outlets have dubbed the “poster child” for the DREAM Act, came to Dartmouth along with over 530 other prospective students for Dimensions of Dartmouth last weekend. Pelaez was facing deportation by the end of March, but she and her sister have recently been granted a two-year reprieve, largely in response to a student-led protest staged in her honor.
The DREAM Act would allow illegal immigrants who arrived in the United States as minors andwho have completed high school and spent the last five years in the country to become citizens.
“I have a two-year reprieve, so hopefully I’ll be able to work on my case and get a visa while going to school at the same time,” Pelaez said in an interview with The Dartmouth.
Pelaez, this year’s valedictorian at North Miami Senior High School, was brought to the U.S. from Colombia illegally at the age of four by her parents. Her father and brother have since become legal residents. Both Pelaez and her older sister, who applied in conjunction with their mother for permanent residency, however, were unable to receive their green cards because their mother returned to Colombia to receive treatment for colon cancer.
“I guess they didn’t realize that [leaving the country] not only derailed [Pelaez’s mother’s] own green card application, it derailed her daughters’ as well,” Larry Jurrist, International Baccalaureate program coordinator at North Miami Senior High School, said.
Since receiving a notice of deportation on Feb. 27, Pelaez and her sister have been working through the court system to try to become legal permanent residents, according to Pelaez.
Pelaez’s friends organized a large demonstration at their high school protesting against her deportation after receiving the notice, according to Emily Sell, Pelaez’s friend and one of the demonstration’s lead organizers.
“We sat around a table and said, ‘OK, what are we going to do? We can solve this, it’s in our power,’” Sell said.
Sell drafted a petition against Pelaez’s deportation and publicized it to her Facebook friends. The petition spread quickly, receiving more than 1,000 signatures in the first hour and more than 100,000 in total, according to Sell.
“We’d get signers from all over the world, and we read through the comments about families who are going through similar situations,” Sell said.
Pelaez’s friends planned a mass protest in which “3,000 kids voluntarily walked out of the school,” according to Pelaez. The protest was widely covered by many major news networks, she said.
“It was just one of those things that went viral,” Jurrist said. “Every single news outlet was camped outside the school.”
Jurrist said he was impressed by the students who organized and led the protest.
“I was most astonished because although we adults participated, it was really the kids who did most of it,” Jurrist said. “It was their idea — they did most of the work for it, and we followed along.”
The news coverage from the protest launched Pelaez to international recognition, with politicians such as Senator Marco Rubio, R-Fla., openly expressing support for Pelaez. Rubio, however, has not come out in full support of the DREAM Act, a proposal which would grant permanent residency for children of illegal immigrants like Pelaez.
“My hope is to come up with a bipartisan solution to this problem, one that does not reward or encourage illegal immigration by granting amnesty, but helps accommodate talented young people like Daniela, who find themselves undocumented through no fault of their own,” Rubio said in an interview with The Huffington Post.
Pelaez has found the media attention to be somewhat overwhelming but has been handling it well, according to her friends.
“At first, I didn’t really believe I was worth so much attention in the news, but now that I’ve learned a lot more about immigration reform, I’m really honored to have the ‘poster child’ title,” Pelaez said.
Sell said that Pelaez is not only a stellar student, but an inspiration as well.
“Of all the struggles she’s been through, she’s really come out of it with a sense of positivity, and that’s really inspiring,” she said.
Tiantian Zhang, a prospective student who met Pelaez at Dimensions, said that she was impressed by Pelaez’s modesty.
“She was very sweet, and I wouldn’t have known that she was this huge icon because she just seemed like an average person,” Zhang said