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Miami valedictorian faces deportation, community protests

Daniela Palaez, the valedictorian of North Miami High School, faces some considerably bigger problems than just upcoming college decisions.

A federal immigration judge ordered the 18-year-old student to voluntarily leave the country by the end of the month in light of her green card request denial. Palaez is a native of Colombia, but has been in the United States since she was four-years-old.

“Everything I’ve worked for, it’s, like going down the drain in a matter of days,” Palaez says.  ”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.”

Palaez is an aspiring surgeon and has already applied to various colleges, including various Ivy League schools.

Enraged by the judge’s decision, the school community protested Friday outside of the high school.  Over 2,600 students and teachers gathered in the streets outside North Miami High School to protest the potential deportation Palaez faces.  Miami Dade Superintendent Alberto Carvalho, who is an immigrant himself, made his opinion on the situation very clear.

“Over my dead body will this child be deported,” Carvalho said in a post-demonstration interview. “Where is the shame of our nation when we pick on somebody like her. This is a community that cares. We are not a community that turns our back on immigrants, on our young, on the invisible, the fragile. We wrap our arms around them. We protect them.”

A friend of Palaez, Emily Sell, even began a Facebook petition in support of her friend.  The site has already attracted 5,000 signatures and is growing steadily at a rate of 200 signatures per hour.

“My goal is not to make Daniela another statistic, but rather the face of the American Dream,” Sell said in an interview.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement released a statement Thursday saying that it would not proceed on with Palaez’s case until her appeal on the judge’s decision is concluded.