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Valedictorian fights deportation

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Friday, March 2, 2012 - 2:34pm

Classmates of a North Miami High School valedictorian facing deportation protested Friday morning.

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 shouting "Education not deportation" and "let her stay," the students filed out of their classrooms around 9 a.m.

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.

"They're the vanguard," Pelaez said Friday.

Pelaez left Colombia in 1998 with her parents, who entered the United States illegally and divorced before Pelaez could become a citizen.

She told NBC News 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 As 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.

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."

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