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Students protest valedictorian's deportation order

By Christine Armario
AP Education Writer / March 2, 2012
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MIAMI—Students protested Friday in support of a Miami high school valedictorian who has been ordered by a federal immigration judge to leave the country.

A judge denied Daniela Pelaez's request for relief from deportation on Monday. Her attorney is planning an appeal.

Pelaez came to the United States from Colombia with her family when she was 4. She considers herself American and has applied to several Ivy League universities and wants to become a heart surgeon.

"I just want to pursue the American dream like any other child," Pelaez said.

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement will not take any action against Pelaez while she pursues her legal options, said spokesman Nestor Yglesias. He added that the agency prioritizes the removal of criminals, those who have crossed the border recently, and those who have previously been removed from the United States.

"Upon conclusion of their appeal, ICE will review this matter to determine whether an exercise of discretion is warranted," Yglesias said.

The Obama administration announced in August that it would indefinitely delay deporting many illegal immigrants who do not have a criminal record and offer them a chance to apply for a work permit. Earlier last year, they also sent out a memo to agents offering guidance on when and how to use discretion. That document also covered those who could potentially benefit from the proposed DREAM Act, which would offer young unauthorized immigrants who go to college or serve in the military a chance at legal status.

U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen wrote a letter to ICE on Friday requesting a stay of deportation for Pelaez and her sister. The congresswoman noted Pelaez has a 6.7 GPA.

North Miami High School students created a Facebook page and started an online petition that has collected more than 5,000 signatures. More than 2,000 students also protested outside the school on Friday, holding signs that read, "She got a 5 in A.P. U.S. history, isn't that American enough?" and "Don't deport our future."

Superintendent Alberto Carvalho also joined the protest.

"Beyond the legality of an issue like this, there is a student, a child, who has no culpability over her life's journey and whose humanity must be respected," he said.

Teacher Larry Jurrist, coordinator of the International Baccalaureate program at North Miami High School, called Pelaez brilliant. He said her coursework is very challenging, making the feat of becoming valedictorian out of more than 800 students all the more impressive. She also tutors other students after school.

"She's the whole package," Jurrist said. "She has her whole future waiting for her."

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