Daniela Pelaez does not have legal status in the US and is sharing her story with the media, hoping that her story will raise awareness about illegal immigration and will lead to new laws that will legalize the status of undocumented immigrants in the US. Pelaez was born in Columbia and is now a student of biology at Dartmouth College, an Ivy League university. Just two months ago, she was facing deportation. Students from her Miami high school rallied around her.
Pelaez and her family arrived in Miami in 1999. She says that she did not know about her undocumented status until 2003, when she and her family tried to gain her legal status through her American stepfather. Her mother had to return to Columbia as a result of immigration issues and earlier in the year an immigration judge signed a deportation order against Pelaez and her older sister. Pelaez says she was frightened, especially since she has spent most of her life in the US and had no attorney at the time. Pelaez was also upset at the deportation order, noting that it was her parents’ decision to arrive and live in the US undocumented, so it makes little sense to punish her and her sister for their mistakes.
In addition to Pelaez’s high school students, others came to her defense, including members of Congress, pro-immigrant organizations, and attorneys. Eventually, Pelaez was granted deferred action for two years. She has used her experience to speak out about the importance of the DREAM Act.
Now that Pelaez does not need to fear deportation for two years, she is continuing to study at Dartmouth College. She also helped create the We Are Here Foundation with her sister. The organization gathers money to help undocumented immigrants get attorneys and other sources they need while navigating the immigration system. Pelaez says that the deferred action plan created by President Obama earlier this summer is a useful first step, but more needs to be done to truly help undocumented immigrants.
Pelaez’s case is interesting for a number of reasons. The very fact that an attempt was made to deport her is interesting since immigration authorities have repeatedly emphasized that the current policies for deportation focus on criminals who are undocumented immigrants, and Pelaez and her sister do not fit into that category. Secondly, both Republicans and Democrats have been trying to pass laws which would retain more skilled foreign-born nationals in the US. Pelaez is studying sciences at one of the top universities in the country, and most legislators would agree that her skills are those needed in the country. Yet, she has been having trouble remaining in the country.