In the struggle for a piece of the America dream, Astrid Silva has taken her commitment to a level very few undocumented immigrants dare to reach: She has gone public. She has shared her name and image with the media for stories that deal with immigration policy, and she tells them her story. It is the story of a dedicated student who graduated from Las Vegas’ Advanced Technologies Academy with good grades but faces many obstacles—such as having to pay out-of-state tuition in the place she grew up—when it comes to attending college and pursuing a career.
Silva felt that her chief cause—turning the Dream Act into law—needed a face.
“I don’t really care if they deport me because of this,” says the 23-year-old College of Southern Nevada student, who has lived in the U.S. since her family left Mexico when she was 4 years old. “It will really be their loss. I just don’t have fear anymore.”
She doesn’t let the taunts, hate mail and angry phone calls distract her. The law, which would grant conditional residency to upstanding undocumented immigrants who have graduated from U.S. high schools, is too important. It would give Silva, along with nearly 65,000 other undocumented students across the nation, the ability to go to college without the extra burden of having to pay out-of-state tuition.
Silva also does her part by organizing marches and participating in campaigns. In 2011, she and some friends founded Dream Big Vegas, an organization that educates people about the bill and garners support for the cause.
Meanwhile, without the ability to earn scholarships or financial aid, she continues to make extraordinary sacrifices to pay her tuition, which isn’t easy without a Social Security number. She makes arts and crafts and takes odd jobs when she can. She hopes that by the time she has her bachelor’s degree in hand, the Dream Act will have passed, allowing her to get a work permit. Her goal is to work in politics, advancing progressive initiatives.
A bill such as the Dream Act is Silva’s best hope for getting a good job after college, because it can take a decade or more to qualify for a work permit. But she’s willing to wait, if that’s what it takes.
“They can’t take being American away from me,” she says. “I just hope that one day they realize that we are an asset.”