by Shaina Blakesley
Central Connecticut State University hosted Director of Immigration Policy and Campaigns for the American Civil Liberties Union Lorella Praeli on Oct. 18 in an effort to open up a conversation about immigration rights in America.
The crowd of about 50 in Memorial Hall last Wednesday morning included faculty, students and a number of Middletown students, all hoping to join the conversation about immigration.
Praeli, who immigrated to the United States from Peru when she was 10 years old after losing her leg in a car accident, said she spent 13 years as an undocumented immigrant and did not obtain citizenship until she married in 2012.
She graduated in 2011 from Quinnipiac University in Connecticut with honors and bachelor’s degrees in political science and sociology.
Praeli said she began her political journey in Connecticut advocating for undocumented immigrants to have the opportunity to pursue their dreams of a higher education, leading her to co-found and direct the program known as CT Students for a DREAM.
Praeli, who currently works in national politics, also previously worked for the nation’s largest immigrant youth group, United We Dream, and later became the National Latino Voting Director for Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign.
In her time with UWD, Praeli said she aimed to give America’s younger generation a chance to speak out and tell their stories, believing they are the ones who can make future change possible.
Praeli’s drive for change can be traced back to 2012, when former President Barack Obama created the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, a policy for undocumented young people who immigrated to the United States as children.
Nearly 800,000 recipients of DACA, who are often referred to as Dreamers, have been protected from deportation.
Now under the policies of President Donald Trump, Praeli fears the new administration may scrap the Obama-era policy.
“If something is going to give here, if we are going to have federal reform to fix the situation that we are in, we ourselves are going to have to be the drivers,” Praeli said.
Dr. Lourdes Casas, associate professor of modern language and Interim Director of the Latin America, Latino and Caribbean Center, joined the discussion to defend those who immigrate to the United States.
“On the local front, we stand in solidarity and support for our DACA students. We must continue to support one another during these difficult times,” Casas said.
Praeli also advocated for the implementation of the expansion of DACA recipients to parents of citizens and legal permanent residents, which has protected four million undocumented immigrants from deportation.
“We can’t wait for others to step up for us, but if we are not sharing our stories and we are not organizing, if we are not at the table developing those strategies then other people are going to do it for us,” Praeli said when addressing the audience about her past hope to pursue DACA during the Obama administration.
Praeli also spoke about the Trump administration’s decision to rescind DACA and force Congress to develop new legislation within six months.
Those six months, however, could impact up to 800,000 people who could find themselves without a work permit or protection from deportation.
More than anything, Praeli stressed the importance of becoming a hero of your own story, prompting the audience to share their own hopes and dreams for theirs and America’s future.
The audience responded with dreams of becoming psychologists, motivational speakers, a member of the United Nations and even obtaining a doctorate from Harvard University.
“I became the hero of my own story when I, an amputee, Latina and undocumented immigrant, stepped up to the mic and spoke my true full volume without fear, without shame and without apology,” Praeli said.