WASHINGTON ― Lorella Praeli, formerly an undocumented activist, has experience in putting political pressure on the White House.
She fought former President Barack Obama over high deportations during his first term and lobbied Congress on immigration reform. If 2016 Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton had won, she may have worked on the inside, after serving as the candidate’s the national director of Latino outreach.
Instead, President Donald Trump is in the White House and she’s going back to activism ― now with a new job as director of immigration policy and campaigns at the American Civil Liberties Union, starting Monday.
“I refuse to look at the next four years and say the only thing we will do is defend,” she told HuffPost, ahead of her job announcement. “It also has to be how do we defend and expand and advance the rights of the community.”
The ACLU is ramping up its on-the-ground advocacy in response to Trump, along with its litigation efforts over some of his highest-profile executive orders on immigration ― those to block refugees and nationals of certain Muslim-majority countries from the U.S.
Praeli will work on policy and advocacy, both nationally and in states and localities, where parallel fights are playing out over immigration, such as an anti-“sanctuary city” bill that passed in the Texas House of Representatives on Thursday.
She vowed to look for ways that advocates can not just defend against deportation efforts but also enact pro-immigrant policies where they can, such as laws that allow undocumented immigrants to get driver’s licenses and in-state tuition. On the defense, she said the ACLU would do a lot of work on immigration enforcement, including agents going into courthouses and schools.
You can talk about what undocumented people are going through or you can say 'I know this is what's happening because I myself was undocumented.' Lorella Praeli
Praeli offers an important perspective as a former undocumented immigrant herself. She moved to the U.S. with her family without authorization when she was 10 years old, making her one of the so-called Dreamers that came to the country as a child. She was undocumented up until 2012, when she married and received a green card. Praeli became a citizen in 2015 and voted in her first presidential election in 2016.
“Being able to bring that experience into the room is incomparable,” she said. “You can talk about what undocumented people are going through or you can say ‘I know this is what’s happening because I myself was undocumented.’”
Praeli worked for United We Dream, a nationwide network of undocumented youth-led organization, as an advocacy and policy director until 2015, when she left to join the Clinton campaign.
Her history with immigration advocacy groups around the country and reputation in the advocacy community as a Dreamer was important in making the hire, said ACLU National Political Director Faiz Shakir.
What we’re building toward is being able to tell Trump not just ‘See you in court’ but also ‘see you in the streets,” he said.
Praeli, who spoke at the Democratic National Convention that nominated Clinton, said her November loss was “devastating” and unexpected. But she did expect what happened next: A Trump crackdown on undocumented immigrants that he promised during the campaign but some people thought he wouldn’t follow through on.
Still, it’s caused many people to engage in advocacy for the first time, which Praeli said she hopes to tap into in her new role.
“I was devastated by the outcome of the election,” she said. “But I’ve also known that our country would rise to the moment.”