The potential deportation of a Miami-Dade county valedictorian has sparked outrage in the area, with thousands taking to the streets last week to protest – all while deportation proceedings against many immigrant students move forward in Florida and across the U.S.
According to the Miami Herald, “More than 2,600 students and teachers at North Miami Senior High took to the streets Friday to protest an order by an immigration judge for their valedictorian, 18-year-old Daniela Pelaez, to depart the country.”
As the Herald reports, Pelaez’s family is currently divided due to immigration rules: her mother, Ana Gonzalez, returned to Colombia in 2006 to get successful treatment for colon cancer and now can’t return to the United States. Her older brother, Johan, is a U.S. citizen serving in the U.S. Army; he returned from a tour in Afghanistan last year. Her father, Antonio Pelaez, was able to receive residency through her brother. Pelaez came to the United States at age 4 with her family on a tourist visa, which they overstayed. Her application for residency was denied in 2010.
The DREAM Activist Florida wrote last week that, in 2010, the Obama administration “announced some cosmetic changes to their deportation policies, citing that they would focus on ‘low-priority deportations, rather than those of students like the [Daniela and her sister Dayana] Pelaez sisters who would be eligible to benefit from the Dream Act.”
The DREAM Act, which was first introduced in Congress ten years ago, would grant those who entered the U.S. illegally before the age of 16 conditional permanent resident status for a period of six years, after which they would be eligible to become legal permanent residents if they obtain at least an associate-level college degree or serve in the military for two years.
The DREAM Act has been fiercely contested by Republican lawmakers across the country, including Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, himself a member of an immigrant family.
Last week, DREAM Act supporters, Congressman Luis Gutierrez, D-Illinois, and Presente Action, an immigrant advocacy organization, called on Rubio to “stop trying to distort his anti-immigrant positions and start taking pro-immigrant policy positions in Congress.”
Gutierrez said that “no issue emphasizes [Rubio’s] hypocrisy more than immigration.”
Presente Action’s Felipe Matos echoes those sentiments, telling The Florida Independent that Rubio has adopted a “tea party agenda,” yet often makes media appearances in which he speaks on behalf of Latinos.
“Rubio’s good at flowery speeches, but we need policy,” says Matos, adding that Florida has 192,000 DREAM Act-eligible youth.
According to Matos, there is no hard data on the number of DREAM Act-eligible youth being detained and deported. But during a campaign to support one of Presente Action’s members (who was being detained at the Broward Transitional Center), the group found that two DREAM Act-eligible youth had also been detained.
“Think about the people who are not involved,” Matos adds, referring to young people who are in deportation proceedings and detained. “If we don’t campaign for them, they just stay there.”
In Florida, and nationwide, says Matos, “inequalities are still prominent, despite Obama’s comments on exemption of DREAM Act-eligible youth.”
DREAM Activist, which follows and reports on deportation cases against immigrant youth through the U.S, writes:
- Last week three undocumented youth were arrested inside the North Carolina state legislature “because they came out as undocumented and unafraid during a committee meeting where 12 legislators were going to decide what anti-immigrant bill to bring next.”
- In January nine undocumented youth, all organizers with the Immigrant Youth Coalition were arrested in San Bernardino California. California, Alabama, and Florida participate in the federal immigration enforcement program Secure Communities.
- Immigrant youth were detained by Immigration and Customs Enforcement and/or local authorities in 2011 in many states including Michigan, Alabama, Georgia, Oregon, Louisiana.
Late last month, 10 DREAM Activist members went to trial after being arrested in Alabama when they had delivered a letter opposing that states’ immigration-enforcement law to Republican state Sen. Scott Beason.
Beason, who helped pass the law, said in February at a Tea Party rally, ”[The law] is doing what it is supposed to do. It is putting Alabamians back to work, it is putting Alabamians first.”