The New York Times profiled former United We Dream activist and current Clinton campaign staffer Lorella Praeli, who, along with 30 other immigrants from around the world, was sworn in as a United States citizen in a ceremony at the National Archives on Tuesday:
Lorella Praeli has not always been happy with President Obama.
For years, Ms. Praeli, an undocumented immigrant from Peru, needled the president, publicly and privately, as she became one of the country’s most visible and persistent young activists pressing for Mr. Obama to take executive action on immigration.
But on Tuesday, Mr. Obama looked on proudly as Ms. Praeli raised her right hand and became one of the nation’s newest citizens in a ceremony at the National Archives, home to the country’s founding documents. In remarks after the event, Mr. Obama congratulated Ms. Praeli and 30 other newly naturalized citizens, saying: “We are born of immigrants. That’s who we are.”
Greeting Ms. Praeli and the others privately before the ceremony, Mr. Obama kissed her on a cheek. “We’re old friends,” he told the surprised group.
Once a critic who verbally confronted the president for his inaction during more than one meeting at the White House, Ms. Praeli became a fierce supporter of Mr. Obama last year after the president finally assented to the wishes of activists, issuing an order to protect as many as five million undocumented immigrants from deportation, including her mother.
Ms. Praeli, 27, who is now working for Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign, was in the front row in late 2014 when Mr. Obama announced his executive actions, which have been held up by a legal challenge that is most likely headed to the Supreme Court. She earned the chance to naturalize when she married her boyfriend, a citizen.
“My biggest dream is for all of them to get to feel the way I feel today, with pride and joy and gratitude for our country,” Ms. Praeli said in an interview, referring to the 11 million undocumented immigrants in the country. “I feel even more committed to continue to fight.”
Ms. Praeli’s parents took her to the United States when she was 3 to receive treatment for injuries she sustained in a car crash that forced doctors to amputate her right leg above the knee. They went back to Peru, but when she was 10, her family returned, eventually settling permanently — and illegally — in New Milford, Conn.
For years as a child, Ms. Praeli was unaware of her status and grew up thinking of herself as an American. When she went to college at Quinnipiac University in Connecticut the difficulties of her situation crystallized. After being selected as a research scholar, Ms. Praeli had to forgo the $6,000 prize because it could be claimed only by a citizen or legal resident.
After her graduation in 2011, Ms. Praeli moved to Washington to help push members of Congress to approve the Dream Act, a measure designed to protect undocumented immigrants who had arrived in the United States as young children. When that failed, she and other activists called on Mr. Obama to protect the so-called Dreamers by executive action.
He did, in 2012, but Ms. Praeli and others kept pressing for more. Throughout that year, Ms. Praeli was among many young activists who expressed disappointment in Mr. Obama until November 2014, when he announced his expanded executive actions at a Las Vegas high school.
Ms. Praeli said she was proud of having confronted Mr. Obama. But she also said she was proud of him for having taken action. The program he announced in 2012 gave her limited protections from deportation but no ability to become a citizen. Her marriage finally gave her the chance to take the oath.
“I’ve always felt like an American,” Ms. Praeli said. “But to finally have the official recognition — it’s a dream come true for me.”
As noted in the NYT profile, President Obama not only attended the naturalization ceremony at the National Archives, but also delivered a “full throated defense” of immigrants in his speech, sharply rebuking the nativist rhetoric stemming from Republican Presidential candidates like Donald Trump:
Speaking at a naturalization ceremony for 31 new American citizens at the National Archives, Obama compared the current wave of immigrants to the waves of German, Scottish, Irish and German immigrants of the past.
“You don’t look alike. You don’t worship the same way, but here, surrounded by the very documents whose values bind us together as one people, you’ve raised your hands and sworn a sacred oath. I’m proud to be among the first to greet you as our fellow Americans,” Obama told the newly sworn citizens.
Obama said immigration was at the core of the American identity. “In the Muslim immigrant today, we see the Catholic immigrant of a century ago,” Obama said. “In the Syrian refugee of today, we should see the Jewish refugee of World War II.”
Obama said those immigrants of yesterday also fled persecution and war, and “their paperwork wasn’t always in order.”
He recounted a litany of past abuses of immigrants, silently comparing them to today’s environment: The forced immigration of African slaves, anti-Catholic discrimination exhibited in signs reading, “No Irish need apply,” and the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II.
“We succumbed to fear. We betrayed not only our fellow Americans, but our deepest values. It’s happened before,” Obama said. “Those who betrayed those values were themselves the children of immigrants. How quickly we forget. One generation passes, two generations pass and suddenly we don’t remember where we came from.”
“We can never say it often or loudly enough: Immigrants, and refugees, revitalize and renew America.” —@POTUS https://t.co/67QOOuDNuA
— The White House (@WhiteHouse) December 15, 2015