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North Texas college student thought DACA was the answer. Now, he looks to 'Parole in Place'

Stella M. Chávez
/
KERA News
Oscar Silva, 23, has stayed enrolled in college because he can't legally work. He plans to apply for the program known as Parole in Place, which would grant him a work permit and protect him from deportation if his application is accepted.

Oscar Silva spends a lot of time inside the business school on his college campus.

The 23-year-old is now in his fifth year at the University of North Texas in Denton where he has degrees in accounting and economics and is working on a masters in accounting. He loves learning and attending school, so college life is a natural fit.

But if he had his way, he would already have a job at an accounting firm.

The problem is that Silva’s undocumented and isn’t legally allowed to work. A program announced by the Biden administration last month could change that for him and as many as 500,000 noncitizens. Known as Parole in Place, those who are eligible would receive work permits and be protected from deportation. It would also ease the process to obtain a green card.

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

Silva’s parents brought him and his older sister to the U.S. when he was a toddler. They left their native San Luis Potosi, Mexico in search of better economic opportunities in Texas.

As he got older, he began to see the limitations of his immigration status.

"I didn’t really understand what it meant to be a ‘Dreamer’ until high school when I started to see classmates achieve milestones, like get a job, get driver licenses, study abroad,” Silva said at a recent event in Dallas hosted by the American Business Immigration Coalition. "I kind of quickly realized that I had no access to any of those opportunities because of my lack of [a] social security [number].”

That was frustrating for him. And that frustration only grew when he got to college. He’s an ace at math and sometimes tutors other students. But a fulltime job is out of the question at the moment. Employers have wanted to hire him until they learn about his status.

"Up to this point, I’d been rejected about 80 times just because I didn’t have a work permit. That was the one thing holding me back," Silva said. "And so now, it’s just so many doors that are going to open up for me."

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

In 2017, he was in the process of applying for DACA — or Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals — when President Trump announced he was ending the Obama-era program.

The week before, Silva and his now wife had been on campus making copies of his DACA application. They took photos to mark the occasion.

"We were like, 'Oh my God, this is like a historical moment for us. Things are going to change ... ' I still remember the pictures we took … ," he said, as his voice broke.

Sometimes, it's difficult for him to talk about those memories.

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

Trump’s decision set off a long legal battle over the legality of DACA that hasn’t yet been resolved. Like parole DACA grants work authorization and protections from deportation for undocumented immigrants brought to the country as children.

The Fifth Circuit Court is currently reviewing the case after it was appealed, following a ruling by a Texas federal judge that it’s unlawful. Many immigration experts believe the case will ultimately end up before the U.S. Supreme Court.

"But here we are seven years later, 2024, nothing really has changed," he said. "I've still been in the same situation with no real opportunity to really work."

If Silva’s granted parole though, 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 thinks Trump would likely try to end it.

Parole is different from DACA though and could possibly withstand legal challenges, he added.

"Parole in Place, I think it's stronger than DACA in some ways in that Parole authority clearly is set forth in the law," Hunker said. "You can’t point to a provision in immigration law that says the president can issue DACA or DHS can issue DACA, but the law makes clear that Department of Homeland Security can issue parole."

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

“It’s so hard to see all of these opportunities that are so close but so unattainable because of this one thing," Taylor said. "And so I think, through the years, we’ve just learned to be really optimistic.”

The couple keeps distracted by playing video games. Oscar also loves playing video game theme songs on his guitar like the music for his favorite game, "The Last of Us."

Taylor said something positive that's come out of all of this is that family members are more curious and educated on the topic of immigration. 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, even once we get [his] green card and we're no longer considered this mixed status family, [ that] we will never stop fighting for those who are in this situation," Taylor said. "I just never want people to feel like they're not enough because of their status."

Got a tip? Email Stella M. Chávez at schavez@kera.org. You can follow Stella on Twitter @stellamchavez.

KERA News is made possible through the generosity of our members. If you find this reporting valuable, consider making a tax-deductible gifttoday. Thank you.

Stella M. Chávez is KERA’s immigration/demographics reporter/blogger. Her journalism roots run deep: She spent a decade and a half in newspapers – including seven years at The Dallas Morning News, where she covered education and won the Livingston Award for National Reporting, which is given annually to the best journalists across the country under age 35.