WASHINGTON -- After spending the last several months urging Latinos to vote for Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, Lorella Praeli finally will get the chance to do so herself.
Praeli, the Latino outreach director for Clinton, was sworn in on Tuesday as a U.S. citizen -- the final step in a years-long process that took the Peruvian-born 27-year-old from undocumented status to legal permanent residency, to a job with a presidential front-runner, to naturalization.
She took part with 30 other new citizens in a special naturalization ceremony at National Archives, with a speech from President Barack Obama. When Praeli's name was called, she stood and waved a small American flag.
"There is no better feeling," Praeli said afterward. "It was everything coming together."
Before she was tapped for the Clinton campaign in May, Praeli was one of the most prominent immigrant rights activists in the U.S. She worked for the undocumented youth advocacy group United We Dream, which helped push for immigration reform and for Obama's deferred action policies that could spare millions from deportation.
"Lorella's story, like so many other American stories, remind us of who we are as a people," Clinton said on Monday during a speech at the National Immigrant Integration Conference, with Praeli looking on.
"I am so lucky to have her," Clinton added.
Praeli had lived without authorization in the U.S. starting when she was 10, when she moved here to seek medical treatment for injuries from a car accident as a child. She received a green card in 2012, when she married a U.S. citizen. Her sister is allowed to remain in the country and work on a temporary basis under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA. Their mother would be helped by Obama's newer program -- Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents, or DAPA -- but it has been blocked in the courts.
Now that she's a citizen, Praeli will finally be able to petition for legal status for her mother. She can petition for her sister as well, but given long wait times, she said continuing the fight for immigration reform is a better bet for her and the other 11 million undocumented immigrants in the U.S.
"My biggest dream, especially on a day like today, is for 11 million people to have the opportunity to feel the way I'm feeling," Praeli said.
Part of her job is to encourage Latinos to vote, including those with green cards who are eligible to become citizens but haven't yet. Clinton spoke Monday about her plans to help people naturalize, expanding access to English classes and offering additional fee waivers for those who struggle to afford the fees.
Obama's remarks on the responsibilities of citizens stood out to Praeli, who said it's important for her and others to vote to protect others who cannot.
"You are now American," Obama told the group. "You've got obligations as citizens, and I'm absolutely confident you will meet them. You'll set a good example for all of us because you know how precious this thing is. It's not something to take for granted. It's something to cherish and to fight for."
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