Quinnipiac University student Maria Praeli was one of six undocumented youth immigrants who met with President Barack Obama in the White House last week to discuss the political controversy surrounding immigrant rights.
Born in Ica, Peru, Praeli came to the United States at age five and is a Dreamer, the term used for undocumented immigrant youths. Praeli is a leader in United We Dream, the largest immigrant youth-led network in the nation. She said the Dreamers’ visit to the White House provided Obama with direct insight into the need for immigration reform.
At the meeting, each of the Dreamers told Obama about their experiences as undocumented immigrants, as well as their efforts to prevent Republicans from passing anti-immigration legislation.
“I think he needed a face for the work he was doing,” Praeli said. “He obviously has received a lot of backlash for his actions, and he needed to hear our stories, which were all unique.”
According to Praeli’s sister Lorella, who is now the UWD Director of Advocacy and Policy, the meeting was intended to send a strong political message to Republicans that anti-immigration legislation would prevent millions of young people from realizing their opportunities.
Both Maria and Lorella Praeli are beneficiaries of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, an executive action signed by Obama in 2012 that temporarily defers the deportation of immigrants under age 16 who entered the country before June 2007. After Lorella Praeli was in a car accident in Peru in 1990, her family had to travel back and forth to Florida to get proper medical services for Lorella, before they ultimately settled in Connecticut with extended family.
While Maria Praeli said she has been able to succeed in the United States because of DACA, she recognized that millions of other immigrants may not be as lucky. She considers DACA too temporary to have a long-term impact — DACA status only lasts for three years, after which recipients must renew it with the Department of Homeland Security. She added that executive actions are fragile and subject to the whims of partisan politics.
Many Republicans are currently advocating for the Blackburn Amendment, sponsored by Tennessee Congresswoman Marsha Blackburn, which would overturn DACA.
“[UWD members and I] went down there and asked the Republican senators if they thought we were deportable,” said Praeli. “And they couldn’t give us an answer — they just avoided us. But they have no issue just getting on the floor and passing these bills that would potentially mean I would be deported.”
Praeli hopes to not only prevent this type of legislation, but also to push for more permanent immigrant reform.
But Praeli has not always been vocal about her immigrant status, according to Lorella.
“She has gone through her own transformation,” Lorella Praeli said. “Maria used to be someone who was really ashamed of what it meant to be undocumented and identifying as a Dreamer, [but] she has really come to embody what that means.”
Maria Praeli echoed this sentiment, noting that she lied to her peers about why she was not able to get a job or a driver’s license in high school. She added that undocumented students are ineligible for financial aid and student loans, adding to the stress of the college application process.
Prior to meeting with Obama, Praeli met with Congresswoman Rosa Delauro several times. In an Monday email to the News, Sara Lonardo, the Communications Director for Delauro, said that Praeli and Delauro met most recently on Jan. 16 to discuss Obama’s America’s College Promise proposal, which would make two years of community college free for “responsible” students who maintain a 2.5 GPA while in college.
Praeli attended Gateway Community College for two years before transferring to Quinnipiac University. She is expected to graduate in 2016.
As of June 2014, 581,000 youths had been granted DACA status, while 24,000 had been denied.