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Why immigration activists are so excited about Hillary Clinton’s latest hire

Lorella Praeli celebrates with her mother after President Obama announced he'd allow millions of immigrants to apply for protection from deportation.
Lorella Praeli celebrates with her mother after President Obama announced he'd allow millions of immigrants to apply for protection from deportation.
Jim Watson/AFP

Nearly every time I've asked a Latino political professional, "What are the early signs I should be looking for that Hillary Clinton's 2016 campaign is serious about Latino outreach?", the answer has been, "Look at who the campaign is hiring, and how early it's hiring them."

By that measure, the Clinton campaign has just passed an extremely important test. Clinton has already hired her 2016 national director of Latino outreach. And the woman she's hired is a leading immigrant-rights activist — someone with more experience confronting politicians about their shortcomings than consulting them.

Lorella Praeli has enormous credibility with immigration activists

Lorella Praeli is a DREAMer — part of the generation of young unauthorized immigrants that's been at the forefront of the immigrant rights movement and Latino politics for the last several years. Praeli came to the US from Peru at the age of 10, but didn't find out she was an unauthorized immigrant until she was a senior in high school. (She received her green card in 2012.) For the past few years, she's been the director of policy and advocacy for United We Dream, the leading DREAMer advocacy network.

In political advocacy, there's often a split between the "inside game" and the "outside game." The insider approach says it's better to work with politicians and support them, showing them it's worthwhile to support the cause and being willing to accept incremental improvements (on the principle that "it's better to have half a loaf than no loaf at all"). The outsider approach holds that politicians need to know they can't take support for granted, and when they fall short they should be confronted and embarrassed — and that some compromises on policy aren't worth making.

united we dream rally

"Families Over Politics" is a pretty good expression of the outsider model. (Alex Wong/Getty)

In practice, most people and groups fall somewhere between the two, and United We Dream is no exception. But it's more outsider than insider. In 2011, when President Obama spoke at the National Council on La Raza's annual conference, United We Dream members stood up in the middle of the speech wearing "Stop Deporting DREAMers" T-shirts and challenged his claim that it wasn't in his power to protect immigrants from deportation. (The White House has since changed its mind, and issued two sets of executive actions — in 2012 and 2014 — to do just that.) Even though the group is mostly made up of people who would have received citizenship under the DREAM Act, it's spent the last few years organizing for broader immigration reform that would allow their parents to qualify for citizenship, as well.

Even though Praeli has a green card now, her sister is still unauthorized — she's been protected from deportation under Obama's 2012 Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. And her mother would qualify for deferred action under Obama's more recent 2014 executive actions, which are currently being held up in court.

The DREAMer movement could be a major talent pipeline for Democrats

So Praeli has a lot of street cred in the immigrant rights movement, even parts of it that are often skeptical of Democratic politicians like Clinton.

But her background in activism is also important for another reason: she's part of a cohort of young immigrant rights activists, mostly DREAMers, who have learned the ins and outs of how political change happens largely on their own. You don't have to agree with either their goals or their tactics to recognize how influential they've become, not just with other immigration advocacy groups but within Latino politics as a whole. They've become effective organizers, seasoned lobbyists, and political strategists. They led the push for executive action on immigration in the first term of the Obama administration, and made it something that both the Obama administration and the Clinton campaign are staking their relationship with Latinos on.

The Clinton campaign has just made the highest-profile hire of a DREAMer activist to date. But there are a lot of other young activists out there who learned the same lessons Praeli did, and had to develop the same skills. It's a good bet that they're going to be some of the leading names in Democratic and progressive organizing for a long time to come.