A North Texas student thought DACA was the answer. Now he’s hoping for ‘local parole’ – Houston Public Media

A North Texas student thought DACA was the answer. Now he’s hoping for ‘local parole’ – Houston Public Media

Stella M. Chávez | KERA News

Oscar Silva, 23, is enrolled in university because he is not allowed to work. He plans to apply for the Parole in Place program, which will grant him a work permit and protect him from deportation if his application is accepted.

Oscar Silva spends a lot of time at the business school on his university campus.

The 23-year-old is currently in his fifth year at the University of North Texas at Denton, where he has degrees in accounting and economics and is currently working on a master’s in accounting. He loves learning and going to school, so college life is a perfect fit for him.

But if it were up to him, he would already have a job at an auditing firm.

The problem is that Silva is undocumented and cannot work legally. A program the Biden administration announced last month could change that for him and up to 500,000 noncitizens. The program is called Parole in Place and those who qualify would receive work authorization and be protected from deportation. It would also ease the process of obtaining a green card.

The program only applies to undocumented immigrants who have been in the United States for at least 10 years and are married to a U.S. citizen.

Silva’s parents brought him and his older sister to the United States when he was a toddler, leaving their hometown of San Luis Potosí, Mexico, in search of better economic opportunities in Texas.

As he grew older, he began to recognize the limitations of his immigration status.

“I didn’t really understand what it meant to be a ‘Dreamer’ until high school, when I saw classmates achieving milestones like getting a job, getting a driver’s license, studying abroad,” Silva said recently at an event in Dallas hosted by the American Business Immigration Coalition. “I realized pretty quickly that I didn’t have access to all of those opportunities because of my lack of a Social Security number.”

This was frustrating for him. And this frustration only grew when he got to college. He’s a whiz at math and sometimes tutors other students. But a full-time job is out of the question right now. Employers want to hire him until they find out about his status.

“Up until that point, I had been rejected about 80 times just because I didn’t have a work permit. That was the only thing holding me back,” Silva said. “And now there are just so many doors open for me.”

Silva was excited when he heard Biden’s announcement about Parole in Place. He almost couldn’t believe it. He had been excited before about the possibility of adjusting his status.

In 2017, he was in the process of applying for DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) when President Trump announced he would end the Obama-era program.

The week before, Silva and his now-wife had been on campus and made copies of his DACA application, taking photos as a souvenir.

“We thought, ‘Oh my God, this is like a historic moment for us. Things are going to change…’ I still remember the pictures we took…” he said, his voice breaking.

Sometimes he finds it difficult to talk about these memories.

Oscar Silva with his sister and father.
Oscar Silva with his sister and father. (Courtesy of Oscar Silva)

Trump’s decision sparked a long legal battle over the legality of DACA that has not yet been resolved. Like parole, DACA grants illegal immigrants who came to the country as children work authorization and protection from deportation.

The Fifth Circuit Court is currently reviewing the case after an appeal was filed after a federal judge in Texas ruled it was illegal. Many immigration experts believe the case will ultimately end up in the U.S. Supreme Court.

“But now we are seven years later, in 2024, and nothing has really changed,” he said. “I’m still in the same situation and I don’t have a real chance to actually work.”

However, if Silva is paroled, that uncertainty would be eliminated. However, many wonder what would happen to the program if Trump is elected. Paul Hunker, former chief counsel for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, believes Trump would likely try to end it.

However, probation is different from DACA and could potentially withstand legal challenges, he added.

“Parole in Place is, in my opinion, stronger than DACA in some ways because the parole authority is clearly spelled out in the law,” Hunker said. “You can’t point to a provision in the immigration law that says the president can issue DACA or DHS can issue DACA, but the law makes it clear that the Department of Homeland Security can issue parole.”

For Natalie Taylor, Silva’s wife, the day when she no longer has to worry about her husband’s immigration status can’t come soon enough.

“It’s so hard to see all these possibilities that are so close and yet so out of reach because of this one thing,” Taylor said. “And so I think we’ve just learned over the years to be really optimistic.”

The couple distracts themselves by playing video games. Oscar also likes to play video game theme songs on his guitar, such as the music from his favorite game, “The Last of Us.”

Taylor said one positive aspect of the whole thing is that family members are more curious and informed about the immigration issue. They ask her questions when they don’t know something and are understanding of Silva’s situation.

And she made a promise.

“I always tell Oscar that even if we get (his) green card and are no longer considered this mixed-status family, we will never stop fighting for people in this situation,” Taylor said. “I just never want people to feel like they’re not good enough because of their status.”

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