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Girl's remark to Michelle Obama causes stir in Peru, too

By María Elena Belaúnde, CNN
A student's remark to first lady Michelle Obama last week at a Maryland school put the spotlight on immigration.
A student's remark to first lady Michelle Obama last week at a Maryland school put the spotlight on immigration.
  • Daisy Cuevas makes news when she tells Michelle Obama her mom doesn't have papers
  • Daisy's older sister, Yuly, shares in the limelight at her school in Peru
  • The girls' mother left Peru eight years ago in search of a better life in the U.S.
  • Girls' grandparents in Peru fear daughter's deportation, but they're proud of Daisy

Lima, Peru (CNN) -- Daisy Cuevas suddenly became an international celebrity after touching on a hot topic during Michelle Obama's visit to her school last week.

"My mom says that Barack Obama is taking away everybody that doesn't have papers," the 7-year-old said to the first lady during her visit to the girl's school in Maryland.

"Yeah, well that's something that we have to work on, right? To make sure that people can be here with the right kind of papers, right? That's exactly right," Obama replied.

"But my mom doesn't have any," Daisy said.

The episode transformed Daisy into a symbol of illegal immigration in the United States and prompted Immigration and Customs Enforcement to issue a statement dismissing rumors about an imminent deportation.

"We have not had an encounter with her, she is not in our custody and we have no indications that she is going through removal proceedings," the statement said.

Thousands of miles away, in Peru's capital, unaware of the incident, was Yuly Cuevas, Daisy's 9-year-old sister. Yuly lives in Lima with her grandparents Genaro and Natividad since her mom left the country eight years ago in search of a better life.

Video: Girl's remark gains notice in Peru
Video: Unscripted moment for first lady

Read about Yuly on CNNMexico

Just as her sister is at the school in Maryland, Yuly is also a celebrity among her peers at the Lima school.

"They tell me: There is a girl exactly like you on television," says Yuly, who is two years older than Daisy but who bears a strong physical resemblance to her sibling.

Yuly says it is "incredible" that her sister spoke with the first lady and she agrees with what she said because "even though she hadn't talked, they would have realized anyway that my mom did not have papers."

Interestingly, her mother studied in the same public school Yuly attends but could not graduate because she became pregnant. When her daughter was 18 months old and she was expecting a second child, the mother made the tough decision to leave her child behind with family in Peru and immigrate to the United States to work as a maid for a Peruvian family.

Initially, she had a companion visa to work legally in the country, but after it expired, she stayed in the U.S., according to her family.

Genaro, the girls' grandfather, makes a living as a cabdriver.

"When the news broke, she [daughter Natalia] called me in tears, saying what trouble her daughter had caused her and wondering what she would do if she were deported back to Peru," Genaro says.

He and his wife, Natividad, have mixed feelings; they fear their daughter will be deported, but they are also proud of the support that Daisy has gathered.

Natividad, who sells fruit in her doorstep, recalls that when Daisy visited Lima last year to meet her Peruvian relatives they were impressed about how curious and talkative she was.

"She has been very smart ... That's why she asked that. Why did she think in that moment to speak about my daughter not having papers? Maybe because her mommy or daddy have talked about it," Natividad says.

According to the grandparents, Daisy's parents have decided that if they are deported, they would bring her to Peru, even though she is a U.S. citizen, because they have no one to leave her with in the United States.