New York Times
By Michael Shear
December 15, 2015
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.
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.”
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