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Student Finds U.S. Immigration Laws Tough To Navigate

NORTH MIAMI (CBS4) - The North Miami High School Valedictorian fighting to stay in the United States has hired a new attorney.

On Friday, Daniela Pelaez, 18, retained Nera Shefer to fight a potential deportation back to her native Colombia. On Monday an immigration judge granted Pelaez an order for voluntary deportation.

"As part of the strategy of the case sometimes we as lawyers sometimes recommend to take this. Yes it is something that we have to request," said Shefer. "But its not offered to everybody and sometimes we do take that in lieu of a deportation order. But at the end of the day, it could have the same effect and it appears in Daniela's case, it would have that same effect if nothing is done immediately."

The immigration judge on Monday denied Pelaez's request for a green card, surprising immigration advocates like Cheryl Little.

"She's entitled to a green card... it's my understanding through other means," said Little, Executive Director of Americans for Immigrant Justice. "I think she has a very compelling case. I think at the end of the day she'll get it."

Right now Pelaez has a number of legal options. Immediately her lawyer said she will file an appeal. That process could take two to four years. In the interim, Shefer said Daniela should be able to stay in the United States.

She can also take the route of filing for citizenship under her father. He recently became a permanent resident under his son, Daniela's brother. Johan Pelaez is a U.S. citizen because of his service in the U.S. Army.

"We are really against the clock," said Shefer.  "We are trying to do everything that is available to us under the law in order for her to stay here permanently."

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