As one of several million undocumented immigrants living in the United States illegally, Astrid Silva could have chosen to hide in the shadows after arriving in Las Vegas, Nevada at the age of four.
Isolated by immigration law, Ms Silva could not attain a driver’s licence or even go to college outside of her adopted home state.
Instead, after missing her grandmother’s funeral in Mexico due to fear of being caught by authorities, she began to campaign for the radical change that would be needed to allow her family to seek US citizenship.
On Thursday evening, President Obama highlighted Ms Silva’s personal story to the nation in support of his executive immigration reforms that will make millions of undocumented migrants eligible to live and work in the US.
“Are we a nation that kicks out a striving hopeful immigrant like Ms Silva, or are we a nation that finds a way to welcome her in?” Mr Obama asked.
Now 26 years old, Ms Silva is undertaking her third degree. Alongside her studies, she has become a leading voice for immigration reform in Las Vegas. She has long campaigned on behalf of the group of immigrants known as ‘Dreamers’, who entered into the country illegally as minors.
While these have been now shielded from deportation since Obama’s 2012 Dream Act, their parents – including Ms Silva’s own father, Cesar Carlos – remained at threat of deportation.
Mr Carlos, 56, a landscape gardener, moved to the US from Mexico illegally in 1989. He was arrested and threatened with deportation multiple times.
But the President’s reforms announced five days ago mean undocumented parents, including Ms Silva’s, who have lived in the US for five years and whose children are US citizens or legal residents, can now apply for work permits lasting three years.
Surrounded by her parents at a Las Vegas party on Thursday alongside Theresa Navarro, the head of the Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada, for which Ms Silva is an organiser, she struggled to contain her emotions following the announcement.
“Just to know that they’re OK and that I don’t have to be scared they’re going to be deported every day. It changes everything.
“It’s very big, more than anything for all the families that worked together. He said my name but all of us have been fighting,” Ms Silva said.
This was not the first time Ms Silva’s story had been highlighted by a member of Capitol Hill. She wrote letters to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid detailing her story as an undocumented immigrant whenever he was in Nevada.
“I have appreciated every one of her letters. They are a reminder of what is at stake in this debate,” Mr Reid told senators last year before a final vote on an immigration reform bill.
Ms Silva will be at Mr Obama’s side on Friday, along with other undocumented immigrant students, when he holds a Las Vegas rally.
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