Have you heard the story about Daniela Palaez yet? It’s everywhere.
From the Miami Herald this week:
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 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 heart 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.”
Watch more of her story here:
Daniela has already faced a number of hardships in her struggle to stay in the only place she has ever called home. She was separated from her mother in 2006 when her mother was forced to return to Colombia for colon cancer treatment. Daniela’s father was able to receive permanent residency through her US citizen, Army-veteran brother, but the traps and pitfalls of the US immigration system have Daniela—and her sister—stuck.
An entire community has rallied around Daniela’s cause. A Facebook petition begun by Daniela’s longtime friend Emily Sell has gathered 5,000 signatures and is quickly picking up momentum. Last week, 2,600 students, teachers, and community members took to the streets of North Miami to protest her deportation, holding banners and chanting “Justice for Daniela.” The rally was one of the largest immigration protests in South Florida since 2004, when President Bush first attempted to enact comprehensive immigration reform. Daniela has even drawn support from Republican politicians Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Sen. Marco Rubio—the latter well-known for his hesitation on legislation like the DREAM Act, which would grant young students like Daniela a path toward citizenship.
And the worst part about Daniela’s story? Young students like her aren’t even supposed to be getting deported. President Obama rolled out a new discretion policy last summer that allows Immigration & Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials to prioritize certain cases over others—say, the deportation of violent criminal immigrants rather than aspiring Ivy League students. Marco Rubio supports letting Daniela stay, yet the President’s directives are trickling through the ICE bureaucracy so slowly that cases like Daniela’s are still cropping up on a regular basis.
As Daniela says during a CNN interview, “I really couldn’t fathom another life. Colombia, it’s my roots, it’s my heritage, I’ll never forget that. But this is my home…what am I going to do in Colombia? What future would I have there?”