More than 2,000 classmates of a North Miami High School valedictorian facing deportation held a protest Friday morning to support her staying in the country.
An immigration judge on Monday ordered the deportation of 18-year-old Daniela Pelaez, who was brought illegally to the United States by her parents when she was 4 years old.
Holding signs and chanting "Education not Deportation" and "Let Her Stay," the students filed out of their classrooms around 9 a.m.
Pelaez met with Miami-Dade Schools Superintendent Alberto Carvalho, who walked out of the school holding her hand following the protest.
Classmates and Friends Protest North Miami High Valedictorian's Deportation Order
"Over my dead body will this child be deported," Carvalho said. "There are some things worth fighting for, I will take on anyone who stands in her way."
"I just want to go to college and be a heart surgeon, live the American dream I know I deserve," Pelaez said.
Pelaez has applied to Yale, Dartmouth and other colleges, but says Yale is her top choice.
Judge Orders Deportation of North Miami Senior High School Valedictorian
Emily Sell, Pelaez's best friend and the organizer of the protest, showed up at the school bright and early Friday to help her friend.
"We've been making posters like crazy," said Sell, the school's salutatorian. "I hope this march brings the proper attention to the issue of deportation."
Pelaez expressed her appreciation for her friends' actions when she arrived for school before the protest.
"They're the vanguard," Pelaez said.
Pelaez left Colombia in 1998 with her parents, who entered the United States illegally and divorced before Pelaez could become a citizen. Her mother then remarried a Cuban national who was eligible for the Cuban Adjustment Act but before the process was complete, her mother went back to Colombia for medical treatment.
According Nera Shefer, Pelaez's attorney, under the Cuban Adjustment Act you have to be living with a Cuban to benefit from it.
'They didn't qualify by then," she said.
Pelaez told NBC 6 Thursday that she has no memory of Colombia and loves her friends and this country.
"I've been asked the question before: 'Do I feel American?' or 'Do I believe I am?'" she said. "And I don't think it's a question. I'm American. I know the national anthem. I know the laws. I know what it is to be an American."
Pelaez has earned nearly all A's in the school's international baccalaureate program, but her ability to go to college is threatened substantially by her immigration status.
Late Thursday, Immigration and Customs Enforcement released a statement saying it will not take further steps in the case until the conclusion of Pelaez's appeal on the judge's decision.
Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen sent a letter to ICE to request a stay of deportation in the case.
"Congress needs to pass the Dream Act so that many young people can form part of our armed forces or attend college and contribute to our generous and great nation. There are many such desperate cases in our community, and, instead of causing such anxiety we can allow these teenagers to realize their dreams in a legal manner," she said in a statement.
Senator Marco Rubio said the country needs to figure out a way that people like Pelaez can stay in the U.S. legally.
"It's the kind of real life example I've discussed with many of my colleagues who agree that we should find a way to help talented kids like this," said Rubio. "And I will continue working to find a bipartisan solution for young students who find themselves in this predicament."
Not everyone agrees Pelaez should stay.
"She should be deported," said Linda Simmons, who has a son in ninth grade at North Miami High. "Her parents broke the law."
A petition to stop her deportation is available online. To sign the petition, click here.