Daniela Pelaez, a former valedictorian at North Miami High, avoided deportation two years ago after a rally and worldwide attention. Now, she has been granted a two-year extension to finish college in the United States.
The two-year stay was granted last week under a federal immigration act that protects undocumented immigrants who arrived in the United States as minors.
“It’s a bittersweet victory,” Pelaez, a sophomore at Dartmouth College, said Wednesday from her dorm room via Skype.
“It doesn’t solve the structural issues with our immigration system,” she said. “But another two years gives us a chance at a better life.”
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Pelaez, studying anthropology and biology, is a student of firsts: the first undocumented immigrant to get a two-year stay under the federal act and also the first to get the stay renewed under the same act, according to her lawyer.
Pelaez, 20, came from Colombia with her family when she was 4 and grew up in Miami-Dade County.
“All the Dreamers in the United States should not lose hope,” said Nera Shefer, Pelaez’s attorney, referring to immigrants who came to this country as children. “Daniela’s case ... should be followed by every Dreamer in America.”
Shefer said Pelaez received her renewal despite opposition from some in Congress as well as political gridlock over comprehensive immigration reform.
Last Friday, for instance, the House passed a bill that would kill the act — Deferred Action for Child Arrival, or DACA —paving the way for possible deportation of students like Pelaez. The Senate has not taken up the bill.
“I don’t foresee that the benefits are going to suddenly stop by the opposition in Congress,” Shefer said. President Obama “said even if this passes the Senate, which is very doubtful, he is going to veto such a law.”
Even so, Shefer said the opposition to the act might cause delays in processing applications for extension. As it was, Pelaez’s application took 4 1/2 months to process.
Pelaez noted the issue’s importance in South Florida in getting support. Two years ago, hundreds turned out for a rally for her cause.
At Dartmouth, in New Hampshire, the immigration issue is not at the forefront.
“I don’t think it’s about them not caring,” she said. “I think it’s just a different context.”
Last spring, Pelaez started a coalition to raise awareness of and advocate for immigration rights. Her latest contribution with the coalition includes a campaign calling for a ban on the term “Illegal” in describing undocumented immigrants.
“For awhile, I thought I didn’t deserve to be in here,” Pelaez said about her life as a college student at Dartmouth.
“I hope I can continue my activist role in helping other Dreamers achieve their dream of going to school. I love education and I can imagine other Dreamers are just like me.”