NEW MILFORD — When Lorella Praeli was sworn in as a U.S. citizen, the setting and the speaker were more imposing than in most naturalization ceremonies.

The Peruvian-born New Milford woman, who is director of Latino Outreach for Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign, was one of 30 immigrants who took part in a special naturalization ceremony last week at the National Archives in Washington, D.C. The event included a speech by President Barack Obama.

Praeli, 27, said taking the oath before the Constitution, “the living document that makes naturalization possible,” was a historic honor.

“Being there with the president taking part was exciting, especially at a time with so many presidential candidates are trying to take us down a road that is un-American,” Praeli said. “This is what we are about as a nation: being able to live for 14 years as an undocumented immigrant, as I did, and now being the director for Latino Outreach on a presidential candidate’s campaign.”

Praeli came to America at the age of 3 for medical treatment after a serious car accident. Her family made the trip to Shriners Hospital in Orlando several times each year, and finally moved to the U.S. when she was 10 so she could be closer to her treatment. She and her mother and sister settled in New Milford, where Praeli’s mother had a sister, and her treatment was transferred to the Shriners Hospital in Springfield, Mass.

It wasn’t until she applied for college that Praeli realized she was considered an illegal immigrant. She kept that status secret until announcing it a Connecticut Democratic Party press conference, after which she became a prominent activist for immigrants’ rights.

Praeli worked for United We Dream, which advocates for undocumented immigrant youth, helping push for immigration reform and supporting Obama administration policies to defer deportation of undocumented students.

Praeli joined the Clinton campaign in May at the invitation of the candidate’s national political director. Part of her job is to get encourage Latinos to vote, including those with green cards.

“Lorella’s story, like so many other American stories, remind us of who we are as a people,” Clinton said Dec. 14 during the National Immigrant Integration Conference.

“It’s a real honor to be working hard to elect the next president, a person who in my opinion is the most qualified and has the best vision for moving our country forward,” Praeli said. “When I look at the need for a comprehensive immigration policy, improved education... what she puts forward is exciting.”

“Being at the National Archives naturalization ceremony with the President was rewarding,” Praeli added. “We’d had some tense moments in the last years when I was working with Congress and the executive branch on immigration reform. President Obama and I had several meetings on the need for executive action. And now, here we were, my becoming a U.S. citizen.”

Now that she has, she will be able to petition for legal status for her mother and her sister.

“Just about every nation in the world, to some extent, admits immigrants, but there’s something unique about America,” Obama said during the National Archives ceremony. “We don’t simply welcome new immigrants, we don’t simply welcome new arrivals — we are born of immigrants. That is who we are.... It’s part of what makes us exceptional. Unless your family is a Native American...all of our families come from someplace else.”

stuz@newstimes.com; 203-731-3352