Astrid Silva

Alex Brandon / Associated Press

Dream Big Nevada nonprofit founder and DREAMer Astrid Silva is interviewed by The Associated Press on Capitol Hill in Washington, Feb. 28, 2017. President Joe Biden’s executive action on June 18, 2024, allowing some noncitizen spouses and children of a U.S. citizen to apply for permanent U.S. residency without having to leave the country was “incredible” news, Silva said.

Astrid Silva was 4 years old in 1992 when she immigrated from Mexico to the United States, settling in Las Vegas a year later and remaining here.

Even at that age, Silva said, she knew she was different from other kids, but she didn’t fully understand why.

All of that changed after high school, when she realized how her immigration status could limit her ability to pursue a college degree in the United States. That knowledge led Silva to get involved in advocacy, she said, and ultimately publicly come out as undocumented.

“It became a method of organizing other Dreamers,” she said, invoking the term commonly used to refer to undocumented migrants brought to the U.S. as children. “As I shared my story, other people shared their stories with me, and I realized I wasn’t the only one that was in this position.”

Silva would go on to found the nonprofit organization Dream Big Nevada, which provides aid to immigrant families statewide and advocates on their behalf. She also serves as director of UNIFY Success Services in the Clark County School District.

President Joe Biden’s executive action last week allowing some noncitizen spouses and children of a U.S. citizen to apply for permanent U.S. residency without having to leave the country was “incredible” news, Silva said.

“For us, it’s really important that this is obviously a great step that the administration is taking, and it’s also the right thing to do — just bottom line,” she said. “There’s no way around it. It is the right thing to do. To me, just being there while the announcement was taking place … it is definitely a really happy moment.”

Those eligible for the process have, on average, already resided in the U.S. for more than two decades, according to the White House. Biden’s announcement Tuesday will protect an estimated half a million spouses of U.S. citizens, and approximately 50,000 noncitizen children under the age of 21 with a parent married to a U.S. citizen, the White House said in a fact sheet.

There are about 15,000 DACA(Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals)-eligible recipients in Nevada, according to the Higher Ed Immigration portal. Immigrants with DACA status temporarily live and work in the United States, but the status does not offer a path to gain permanent legal residence or citizenship.

For some, that’s changing.

“These couples have been raising families, sending their kids to church and school, paying taxes, contributing to our country for every — for 10 years or more … but living in the United States all this time with fear and uncertainty,” Biden said. “We can fix that, and that’s what I’m going to do today: fix it.”

The Biden administration will also ease the work-visa process for individuals who have earned a degree at a U.S. institution of higher education and received an offer of employment from a U.S. employer pertaining to that degree, which will DACA recipients.

The immigrants could eventually apply through their employers for permanent lawful residency.

“I want those who have been educated at U.S. colleges and universities to put their skills and knowledge to work … here in America,” Biden said Tuesday, at an event celebrating the 12-year anniversary of DACA, an Obama-era immigration policy. “I want to keep building the strongest economy in the world with the best workforce in the world.”

Silva, a vocal DACA recipient, and others have pushed for such changes to the immigration process and will continue to do so, she said. But, while Biden’s announcement last week was significant, she said Congress still needed to take its own action. No matter what, Silva emphasized, work permits will always be temporary.

She pointed to examples in the past like former President Barack Obama’s introduction of Deferred Action for Parents of Americans (DAPA), an executive action that generated excitement in the immigrant community but was later struck down by the courts.

“There’s definitely no denying that there’s always that fear that this will be something that won’t be fully implemented,” she said. “But at the same time, I think our families needed that hope, that there is still work being done for us. And, at the end of the day, what we’ve always asked for is for the immigration process to be fixed — to be made so that families don’t have to go through years and years and years of navigating a system that is built against them.”

Pushing ahead

The next step for Silva is to educate families about the changes, she said, and make sure they know that nothing has been formally put into place yet.

There’s going to be a lot of misinformation, Silva warned, and she recommends that people get their facts from official organizations and ask questions as needed.

“As of right now, there is no application — there is no process that has been underlined yet,” she said. “But right now the announcement has been made and we’re going to move forward working with that.”

So many DACA recipients are a benefit to their state or the U.S. overall, whether as teachers, lawyers or as nurses, Silva said.

“During the pandemic, so many of my DACA recipients were out there, saving lives and — no matter what — going home knowing that that patient that they may have just saved was someone that didn’t want them in this country,” she said. “And so we’ve been contributing to our state. We’ve been doing all the things necessary.”

She’s more documented than most American citizens will ever be, Silva quipped, due to the amount of information DACA recipients are required to turn over, and the background checks conducted on them every two years, if not annually.

“And even with all of that, people still … say, ‘Oh, well, I thought you already became a citizen,’” she said. “And then, when you tell them, ‘Well, no, I’m not a citizen yet,’ they say, ‘Well, see, you didn’t care about it.’ And so, unfortunately, it is a shame that so many Americans aren’t aware of how the immigration process works. But we will keep forging ahead because announcements like (Tuesday’s) really are what we need to see more of.”

Nevada leaders react

State Sen. Fabian Donate, D-Las Vegas, said during a news conference Tuesday that Biden’s announcement would give spouses and Dreamers an easier pathway to citizenship, protecting family units and allowing eligible spouses to gain work authorizations so that they can get good-paying jobs.

About 1 in 10 Nevadans, or 200,000, Nevadans are undocumented, Donate said.

“Ultimately, what President Biden did is, he allowed families to stay together, and that’s fundamentally important,” he said. “But let’s be clear, there are many undocumented residents that are not affected by this presidential action today. And it’s up to Congress to do their job and ensure that our families are continuously protected and that undocumented residents have a pathway to citizenship.”

U.S. Rep. Steven Horsford, D-Nev., in a virtual news conference hosted by the American Business Immigration Coalition (ABIC) and American Families United (AFU), applauded the effort by the Biden-Harris administration.

“The new measures to provide work permits and a path to citizenship for undocumented spouses and children are important steps forward, and we must continue to work together in a bipartisan and balanced approach on further immigration and border policy,” he said.

U.S. Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto, D-Nev., called Biden’s actions the biggest win for immigrant families since DACA more than a decade ago.

“Still, there’s more work to do to fix our broken immigration system — but President Biden understands that you can invest in border security and stand with immigrant families,” she said in the news conference hosted by ABIC and AFU. “That’s the right thing to do, and it’s the smart thing to do.”

U.S. Sen. Jacky Rosen, D-Nev., on social media called the U.S. immigration system “broken,” and responsible for leaving Nevada families in “limbo.” She said that Biden’s announcement was critically important to keep families together and support Dreamers by allowing them to live and work legally in the U.S.

“But there is more work to be done, & Congress must come together in a bipartisan way to pass comprehensive immigration reform that secures our border & provides families with certainty & permanent relief,” Rosen said on X.

[email protected]/ 702-259-4059 / @_katieann13_

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