SWEETWATER (CBSMiami) – Daniela Pelaez was worried that she might be deported back to Columbia by now, but instead the 18 year old Valedictorian of her class walked across the stage at FIU’s U.S. Century Bank Arena to receive her high school diploma Friday.
“A couple of months ago it didn’t look like I would be here at this moment,” said Pelaez. “But now I am. 13 years I waited for this.”
Her immigration status was a mess. Her parents came here on a Visa and overstayed. Her mom went back to Colombia and could not return. Under the law, she had no legal status in this country and was facing the possibility of deportation.
Friends took up her cause, and along with the help of her attorney, the federal government gave the Columbian-born teen an extension of two years to straighten out her legal status.
She had been finishing school as she used her newfound celebrity status to help raise the attention paid to students like her, who face immigration hardship because of the decisions made by parents.
Pelaez said she hopes to become an American citizen under the S.T.A.R.S Act, a proposal she has supported to give students like her legal status or by applying through her father, a permanent resident.
Despite her uphill legal battle that lies ahead, Pelaez will head to Dartmouth College in September on a full scholarship.
As friends, family, and supporters watched Pelaez emerged confidently dressed in her white cap and gown at the North Miami Senior High School graduation, but her accomplishments recognized there went well beyond her diploma. She received the Superintendent’s Diploma of Distinction, she graduated Summa Cum Laude and she was the Valedictorian.
“Without your demonstration of kindness and sense of community I would have been deported,” she told the crowd during her speech.