As he starts to preview what his alternative to the DREAM Act will look like, Sen. Marco Rubio often mentions the story of Daniela Pelaez, an 18-year-old valedictorian and aspiring molecular biologist who faces deportation because she is undocumented, as an example for why such a plan needs to be developed.
But Pelaez, whose attendance at Dartmouth hinges on her ability to stay in the country, doesn’t believe the sketch of Rubio’s plan goes far enough.
In an interview with ABC News, Pelaez expressed displeasure with the glimpse Rubio has offered of his upcoming proposal, arguing that it is “wrong” for it to not provide a path to citizenship, but admitted it at least provides “baby steps” towards immigration reform.
“I’m not happy with Senator Rubio’s position, that it doesn’t lead to citizenship. I feel that would create a whole alternative inferior type of class of Americans,” Pelaez told ABC News. “It’s bittersweet because it’s a stepping stone in the right direction but it’s going about it the wrong way.”
“It’s heartbreaking not just for myself but for everybody else who would have been applicable under it because we deserve so much better than that, but what can I do?” Pelaez later continued. “I guess the only thing I could do is continue to tell my story and continue to raise awareness for it.”
Pelaez came to the country from Colombia with her family at the age of 4 in 1999, but they overstayed their tourist visas. While some of Pelaez’s family left the country over the years, she remained along with her 26-year-old sister, Deyana.
Pelaez, who founded the Model UN chapter at her high school and is a member of the speech and debate team along with the math honor society, Mu Alpha Theta while maintaining a 6.7 GPA, will graduate as valedictorian from North Miami High in June and has received a full paid scholarship to Dartmouth University this fall. A court ordered Pelaez and her sister be deported from the country, but in March, an immigration judge granted a two year deferment that allows her to stay in the country. She is currently undergoing an appeal that will be decided in the next eight months to keep her in the country permanently.
Pelaez met with Rubio in early March to help him put a face to the issue troubling an estimated two million undocumented children and young adults in the country.
“Daniela grew up in our public schools, did everything that her teachers asked of her, did everything her community asked of her, did everything her family asked of her,” Rubio said during an interview with National Journal at the Newseum Thursday. “I looked at that and said well let me – if she was 6 foot 7 and could shoot a jumpshot, we’re going to keep her, but if she’s a molecular biologist in the future and a valedictorian we’re going to deport her? It just doesn’t make a lot of sense so what can we do to address people in her circumstance?”
Rubio, whose name is floated as a top vice presidential contender, is expected to present his alternative to the DREAM Act this summer, which would provide students like Daniela with non-immigrant visas to continue their studies in the United States while they also attempt to become citizen of this country. The outline of Rubio’s plan differs from the DREAM Act because it does not provide a guaranteed path to citizenship, something Rubio has adamantly stressed.
“All this does is award a non-immigrant visa to these kids who find themselves in this very difficult circumstance,” Rubio said on CNN’s State of the Union Sunday. “At some point in the future they would have no more or no less rights than anybody else in the world. They wouldn’t be getting any preferential treatment; they’d be just like any other nonimmigrant visa holder who may decide to access the legal immigration system.”
Pelaez has helped draft an alternative to the DREAM Act called the STARS Act (Studying Towards Adjusted Residence Status) with Rep. David Rivera, R-Fla., which would allow undocumented students to stay in the U.S. for ten years – five to complete college and additional five years upon graduation. At the end of the ten years, the person could apply for full citizenship.
Pelaez said she hopes to see both parties embrace the legislation Rubio puts forward this summer and believes the Republican party needs to strive not to alienate Hispanic voters by refusing to accept such an act.
“I feel like there’s been recent changes lately in the demographics and I feel like a lot of the younger called and the more liberal are going to be out there voting and it’s going to look wrong if they don’t try to be appealing for everybody,” Pelaez said.
Pelaez spoke to ABC News while she waited to attend a barbeque hosted by the Dartmouth Democrats as she spent a weekend on the Ivy League campus ahead of her enrollment this fall.
“The irony of our political conversation that I’m waiting for the Democrats and barbeque to start.”
Despite being of legal voting age, Pelaez is unable to vote since she is not a U.S. citizen, but she is still politically mindful, saying that though she would base her vote on the individual, not a party, in an Obama vs. Romney match-up, she’d side with Obama. When asked if adding Rubio to the Republican ticket would sway her to vote for the GOP pair if she could, Pelaez answered “not really.”