Over the last few days, the inequities of this country's immigration policies have come under heightened scrutiny, especially here in Miami. As many have heard or read about, a federal judge recently ordered the deportation of North Miami Senior High's valedictorian. Daniela Pelaez, 18, was given the order for voluntary departure by a federal immigration judge last Monday after her request for a green card was denied. Pelaez's case, like many other similarly situated children, is quite compelling. She came to the United States at age four with her family from Colombia on a tourist visa, which they overstayed. Despite the fact that this is the only country she knows and she states with certainty, "I consider myself an American, no matter what," she faced the prospect of having to leave the only country she calls home.
However, a new Obama administration policy first announced last summer appears to provide more leniency to undocumented immigrants like Pelaez. Using the prosecutorial discretion provided by the new policy, the Immigration Customs Agency (ICE) announced yesterday that Pelaez would be given a two-year deferral from deportation.
It appears local politicians who came to Palaez's defense may have had an impact. Her struggle drew support from Congresspersons Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and David Rivera. She has also garnered support from U.S. Senator Bill Nelson, and Senator and GOP VP hopeful Marco Rubio. On the matter, Rubio announced: "I have always said that our country needs to figure out a way to accommodate high academic achievers brought here at a very young age by their parents but who now find themselves undocumented through no fault of their own,"
In the eyes of some, these politicians showed conviction and courage for a compelling case like that of Pelaez. However, what several of these leaders fail to realize is what Pelaez herself has repeatedly noted -- there are thousands of high school age and younger children just like her. They have grown up in the United States and know this great land to be their home. Yet, perhaps because they are not valedictorians, and have not had the media shine its bright light on them, they on a daily basis face fear in the country they consider their homeland, and perhaps even deportation.
Sadly, the above activities by local politicians may seem like nothing more than classic political opportunism. Indeed, it is questionable whether the politicians cited above are ready to openly fight for the tens of thousands youngsters that are just like Ms. Pelaez. Indeed, Senator Rubio has openly opposed the proposed federal legislation aimed to once and for all address the plight of these young Americans. He has opposed the DREAM Act, which would allow individuals like Ms. Pelaez to not only to live here without fear of deportation, it would end current state education efforts in different states that include forbidding these youngsters from attending college, and some states like Florida, require these individuals to pay as much as four to five times more than similarly situated young adults living in the same locales. Rubio has openly attacked the DREAM Act: "But the DREAM Act, as I have read it, goes well beyond that. It's much broader and is not the right approach to that issue. In fact, it makes having a legal immigration system that works harder to accomplish. I have the same position I had during the campaign."
Showing continued true courage and conviction, Pelaez intends to travel to Washington today to meet with Senator Rubio in order to see if he will reconsider his stance on the DREAM Act. The question that thus arises is whether our local leaders will continue to be compassionate brave spokespersons for young academic achievers when the bright lights of the news cameras focus their gaze elsewhere. What we all must realize is that when the Pelaez case fades from our collective attention, what remains will be the tens of thousands of young achievers just like Daniela Pelaez that still face ongoing fear and persecution for an alleged wrong they did not commit.
Isn't it time for all of us to act on principled statements? And, as Senator Rubio himself has stated, "Our country needs to figure out a way to accommodate high academic achievers brought here at a very young age by their parents but who now find themselves undocumented through no fault of their own." May the spotlight continue to shine on all these politicians, and others like them. May they eventually realize that it is the DREAM Act that will ensure that our youth receive a fair, safe, and honest way to support our country? Let's see them lead, and eventually pass the DREAM Act.