Undocumented Immigrant Starts Classes At Dartmouth

09/13/12 7:34AM By Charlotte Albright


VPR/Charlotte Albright
Daniela Pelaez will attend Dartmouth under new relaxed deportation rules announced by President Obama in June.

Dartmouth College is welcoming students back to campus, and one of them feels especially happy-and lucky-to be there. Daniela Pelaez is an undocumented immigrant who came to this country with her parents from Colombia in 1999, when she was four. They outstayed their tourist visas, and her mother returned to Colombia. But Daniela stayed in Florida and avoided deportation. Now the class valedictorian will study molecular biology.

In some ways she still can't believe she's shopping in the Dartmouth Bookstore.

"When I was growing up... it seemed like an impossible dream that only the true American families send their kids to-at least in the immigrant community it wasn't very normal to send their kids to the Ivy Leagues," Pelaez said.

Especially kids whose parents are illegal immigrants. The Pelaez family was on track toward citizenship when her mother got gravely ill and couldn't afford insurance in America.

"So she decided to go to Colombia where insurance is actually pretty cheap for citizens but she didn't know that by doing so she was forfeiting her immigration rights, so it sent us on the deportation track," Pelaez said.

She will never forget the day her deportation notice arrived.

"But I still wanted to go to school - I had an exam, I think - so I went," she recalled. "I told my friends about it and they started planning the protest, so after that protest everything just spiraled out of control and I became the poster child."

The poster child, she means, for President Obama's decision to grant children of undocumented immigrants limited rights to stay in the country, if they came here under the age of sixteen, have lived in the country for five years, are in school and obey the law. She gave countless interviews at a time when various plans were being floated to relax immigration rules, and believes all that media attention helped get her deportation deferred. Her dad became a U.S.citizen but her mother remains in Colombia.  Daniela's goal now is to succeed in a competitive college, and perhaps attend medical school.

"And for my parents, I want to be able to take care of them. You know, my dad is fifty now and works hard labor in a factory and I want to be able to give him a better life so he can retire,"she said.

The Dartmouth Bookstore on Main Street didn't have the texts she needed so she headed to another one near by. But most of the titles required for her classes were already sold out.

It doesn't daunt her.  Neither does the fear that the rules set by the Obama administration will be rescinded, putting the visa she wants  in jeopardy. She's faced that before, she said, and she's focusing on the here and now.


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