When President Obama made his case to the nation Thursday for immigration reform, he told the story of a young woman from Nevada who has quietly won the hearts of the most powerful in Washington as the face of America’s immigrants.
Astrid Silva, who was profiled in the Los Angeles Times in 2013, was brought to the United States illegally with her mother – pulled across the Rio Grande in a tire raft, wearing a frilly dress and patent leather shoes. She was 4 years old, clutching a Ken doll.
The family lived in Las Vegas, where her father worked as a landscaper. She went to school, learned English and soared to the top of her class with hopes of becoming an architect. But she had no Social Security number, limiting her options for college and her chances of landing a legal job.
“Are we a nation that kicks out a striving, hopeful immigrant like Astrid – or are we a nation that finds a way to welcome her in?” Obama asked in his prime-time address.
Silva, 26, watched the president’s address at a viewing party she helped organize in Las Vegas after a long day at work and school.
Before she became active as a so-called Dreamer – the term widely used to describe immigrants who were brought to the country illegally as children – she had worked as babysitter, but was frustrated by the limits of a life in legal limbo.
A few years ago, she began writing heartfelt letters about her situation and would slip them to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada when he was in town.
Reid at first thought her folded notes were a nuisance. Then he read them.
And so began one of the most unusual relationships in Washington, one that helped shape the debate on immigration.
“President is exactly right,” Reid tweeted after Obama’s speech. “Immigrants like Astrid Silva deserve to [be] welcomed in the only country they’ve called home.”