The North Miami Senior High School student who got a reprieve from deportation graduated on Friday, delivering a heartfelt thank you to her classmates.
“Without your demonstration of kindness and sense of community, I would have been deported,” Daniela Pelaez said in her school's commencement speech at Florida International University.
She has worked with lawmakers to raise awareness about young undocumented students like herself.
Pelaez’s request for a green card was denied by a judge, sparking a national debate on the Dream Act. Her application for residency was denied in 2010.
But Pelaez and her sister were granted a two-year reprieve in March after they faced imminent deportation. The pair has received a flurry of support from local officials, catapulting their case to the national stage.
On Friday she spoke before about 500 students about receiving a portrait of the Statue of Liberty.
“She is a sign of freedom to many Americans, but many may have forgotten, or simply did not know, that she was a gift from the French. So she too, like millions of us in the United States, is an immigrant," Pelaez said.
She and her sister started their own foundation, We Are Here Foundation Inc., to raise money and provide scholarships, grants and support to student immigrants in the U.S.
Pelaez left Colombia with her parents in 1998. Her family overstayed a tourist visa when she was 4 years old. She plans to study medicine at Dartmouth College in the fall.
One of her supporters is Miami-Dade Superintendent of Schools Alberto Carvalho, who said early on that Pelaez would be deported over his dead body.
"You are here today graduating. America has your back. The Class of 2012 has your back,” he said emphatically.