Miami Valedictorian Could Be Deported

PHOTO: Daniela Pelaez, a senior and valedictorian at North Miami High School, faces deportation to Columbia.
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North Miami High School senior Daniela Palaez has a 6.7 GPA, the valedictory nod from her classmates, a brother in the U.S. Army and deportation papers to Colombia.

In a hearing on Monday a federal immigration judge ordered the 18-year-old Palaez, in the U.S. since she was 4 years old, to voluntarily leave the the country for her native Colombia by the end of the month after her request for a green card was denied.

"Everything I've worked for, it's, like going down the drain in a matter of days," says the aspiring surgeon who has already applied to a number of Ivy League colleges. "I consider myself an American. [Deportation] would mean I'd leave a country and go back to a country that I don't remember, a country [where] I don't feel at home, and I don't even graduate high school,"

Flanked by American flags and backed by chants of "justice for Daniela" from the thousands gathered Friday outside her school, Miami Dade Superintendent Alberto Caravalho upped the ante, saying "over my dead body will this student be deported," to roaring approval by the students.

After the judges' order on Monday, Emily Sell, a longtime friend, began a petition in support of Palaez on Facebook. It already has 5,000 signatures and is picking up momentum, with new signatures coming in at the rate of about 200 an hour.

"My goal is not to make Daniela another statistic, but rather the face of the American Dream," Sell told ABC News. "Her possible deportation is very hard for her friends and family and community to hear."

Palaez was 4 years old when she arrived in the U.S. with her family from Columbia on a tourist visa. Her residency application was denied in 2010. Her mother returned traveled to Columbia five years ago to get treatment for colon cancer and now can't return to the U.S. Palaez's brother is in the U.S Army and just returned from a tour in Afghanistan. Her father received permanent residency through Palaez's brother, but she is stuck.

Her departure is not imminent, and her attorney is planning to file an appeal that would prevent her removal from the U.S. Right now, Palaez is trying to get a pre-approved student visa, but congressional support is needed to expedite such a request. She has gained the strong support of three Florida members of Congress, at least two of who plan to write to the U.S Immigration and Customs Enforcement on her behalf.

Palaez's attorney, Jack Wallace, says it may be years before she is actually deported.

This latest case has renewed calls for comprehensive immigration reform. The proposed Dream Act, a legislative bill that would allow undocumented children to receive permanent residency either by enrolling in college or the military, has stalled despite strong support from President Obama.

There are nearly 200,000 students in Florida alone who would benefit from the Dream Act, which some criticize as promoting illegal immigration.

"Once I make the appeal, I think I will be able to stay," says Palaez, who hopes her bright future won't be cut short by a situation that was never in her control. "ICE [Immigration and Customs Enforcement] says everything will be fine as long as I continue my legal proceedings."

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