U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL) today demanded federal immigration officials explain government efforts to deport North Miami High School senior-class valedictorian Daniela Pelaez, whose parents brought her to America when she was four years old. Government and immigration officials are allowed to use broad discretion in cases, like Daniela's, under a policy Nelson helped enact last year.
"Given that the chief missions of our immigration enforcement are national security, public safety and securing our borders, how is it we have the time and resources to target a high-school honor student like Daniela?" Nelson asked in a letter today to Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano. Homeland Security is the parent agency of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
An immigration judge on Monday ordered the deportation of 18-year-old Daniela, who was brought illegally to the United States by her parents. A judge decided Daniela and her sister Dayana could no longer live in this country.
Daniela is a senior at North Miami where she's reportedly in the international baccalaureate program. On March 28, she and her sister are scheduled to be deported back to Colombia. South Florida media reports say Daniela and her siblings came to America in the 1990s with their parents, who later divorced. Daniela now lives with her father, who is a resident.
She told Miami's WTVJ on Thursday that she has no memory of Colombia and loves her friends and this country.
Today, an estimated 2,600 students at North Miami High School protested the deportation order.
Last year Nelson and a handful of other senators successfully urged the administration to enact a new policy that would give U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement discretion to defer action in cases where illegal immigrants could work toward legal status under the pending legislation known as the DREAM Act.
The policy - outlined in what is sometimes called the Morton Memo, so named for ICE Director John Morton -- permits deferring deportation action on young people who would be eligible for the DREAM Act and are not a national security or public safety threat.
The DREAM Act is legislation that would allow students to obtain legal status if they were 15 or younger when they came into the country, have lived here for at least five years, have good character, are not removable for other reasons, have graduated from high-school or obtained a GED and attend college or serve in the military for two years. Daniela reportedly is applying to Yale, Dartmouth and Duke University.
March 2, 2012
The Honorable Janet Napolitano
Secretary of Homeland Security
United States Department of Homeland Security
Washington, D.C. 20528
Dear Secretary Napolitano,
It has come to my attention that Daniela Pelaez and her sister Dayana Pelaez face deportation. Daniela and her sister are Floridians who reportedly were brought to the United States as young children by their parents in the 1990s.
They now face deportation.
Given that the chief missions of our immigration enforcement are national security, public safety and securing our borders, how is it we have the time and resources to target a high-school honor student like Daniela? Based on publicly available information so far, it doesn't seem like deporting her and her sister lines up with any of these primary goals of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). If it does, I'd like to request an explanation from your office.
Daniela reportedly is an honor student who is in international baccalaureate classes at North Miami High School. She's valedictorian of her class and has applied to some of the best colleges in America. According to media reports, teachers and fellow students are shocked that Daniela could be deported back to Colombia, and have rallied behind her in support.
I am writing to ask that her case be handled in keeping with ICE Director John Morton's memo to field office directors, special agents-in-charge and chief counsels, dated June 17, 2011. The memo outlined a policy urged by me and some of my Senate colleagues wanting broader discretion to prioritize cases and defer deportation when it doesn't reflect ICE's chief missions, as stated above. In my opinion, an honors student and valedictorian should not be a prime target.