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Students, Politicians Rally To Keep N. Miami HS Valedictorian In U.S.

MIAMI (CBSMiami) - A quick protest started Friday morning outside North Miami Senior High School on behalf of the school valedictorian, Daniela Palaez, who has been ordered by a judge to leave the country later this month.

Virtually the entire school participated in the protest which saw the students walk one lap around the school before returning to class.

"It's a great feeling to know that there is like human kindness," Daniela said. "Because a lot of these people, I don't really know."

Palaez has lived here since she was four. Daniela, 18, has spent most of her life in the U.S. In fact, she said she can't remember her native country, Colombia.

I've done everything that an American child has done. I know the National Anthem, I know more about the United States than I do about Colombia. This is my home," said Daniela.

She's done so well at North Miami Senior High that she's now the valedictorian.

"Yeah. I have a 6.7 GPA," said Daniela.

Even so, Daniela may have no other choice but to leave the U.S. at the end of the month. She was born in Colombia and came here with her parents when she was four.

A few years ago, her mom returned to Colombia for medical reasons while Daniela was in the process of legalizing her status.

A legal back and forth ended when her attorney requested for a voluntary departure, which is different than a deportation. Daniela has also requested a green card from the federal government.

"I just want everyone to understand that it's not only about me," Daniela said. "I'm just the face in front of millions of other kids just like me."

Still, some parents didn't think the protest was a good use of time for students during the school day.

"It's great that she's a good student," said parent Linda Simmons. "But the issue is not if she's a good student. The issue is if her parents followed the law and everybody should have to be processed by the law."

Shortly after the protest, Miami-Dade Schools Superintendent Alberto Carvalho appeared at the school with the girl and said he is supporting her 100 percent and that she will be leaving the country over his dead body.

Carvalho said he would put his career on the line to keep her from getting deported, even though Daniela is not technically being deported.

Daniela can appeal the federal order to leave the country.

The Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency released this statement: "ICE will not take any action … while [she] pursues additional legal options. Upon conclusion of [the] appeal, ICE will review this matter to determine whether an exercise of discretion is warranted."

Daniela met with Congressman David Rivera Friday afternoon. He sent a letter to Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano supporting Daniela.

"We have invested so much in Daniela already, the taxpayers in terms of her education, and we can receive so much back from her," said Rivera. "She wants to be a heart surgeon..  I'd much rather have Daniela be a heart surgeon here at Jackson Memorial Hospital  instead of be a heart surgeon in some other part of the world."

Rivera has proposed legislation that would assist undocumented immigrants who served in the military but not students going to college. When asked how Daniela's case fits with his legislation he responded, "I hope we can find some sort of immigration reform in the future that will provide for military service and also provide for students to pursue educational opportunities as well.  I think right now that's a difficult prospect in this congress."

US Rep Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, a supporter of The Dream Act which would give students like Palaez the legal right to pursue education in the US, sent a letter to U.S. Immigration & Customs Enforcement (ICE) asking the federal agency to intervene and request a deferred action and a stay of deportation, even though the teen does not currently face deportation and has received permission to leave the US voluntarily.

Senator Bill Nelson also asked federal immigration officers to obey a prior ICE memo "that urged broader discretion to prioritize case and defer deportation when it doesn't reflect ICE's chief missions. In my opinion, an honors student and valedictorian should not be a prime target."

Senator Marco Rubio also threw his support behind Palaez, saying in a statement; "I have always said that our country needs to figure out 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. 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."

Rubio has not supported the Dream Act


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