Photo: Alex Brandon/AP Photo

Frantic messages, emergency meetings, CNN interviews and 'Lord of the Rings'

After only a few hour of sleep, Astrid Silva woke up at her family home in west Las Vegas at 3 a.m. Tuesday morning. Washington, D.C., three hours ahead, was already buzzing with early intel on the DACA announcement.

Silva has been through the ups and downs of immigration reform too many times to count. She entered the United States illegally when she was 3 in 1992, brought by her mother who came to reunite with her father. She has watched a handful of times as Congress took up the DREAM Act to legalize the status of more than 1 million immigrants who entered the country without authorization as children, and she has seen it fail every time. She celebrated Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), and the temporary relief it offered. “It changed my life,” she says.

Silva has been preparing for the dismantling of DACA since January 20, when President Donald Trump was inaugurated, but the planning began in earnest last week, as word came down that the administration was set to make its announcement on the Obama-era program.  

Silva, whose parents also do not have legal residency, has been advocating for immigrants for almost a decade. She was one of the first undocumented students to go public in Las Vegas, and she co-founded a DREAMer advocacy non-profit, Dream Big Vegas. As the DREAMer movement picked up steam, Silva grew into the role of community liaison between immigrants, politicians and the media. She became a close confidant of former Senate Majority Harry Reid, and gave the democratic Spanish-language response to Trump’s first address to Congress. When President Barack Obama announced the DACA program in a nationally televised address in 2012, he used Silva as an example of why it was needed. Once she received her temporary status and work permit, she earned her degree in history and pre-law from Nevada State College and went to work in an immigration attorney’s office.

Silva is now a nexus for information when big changes are brewing for immigration policy. Politicians trust that she will get the word out, and the immigrant community knows she is someone to turn to for answers. Well before Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ Tuesday press conference, Silva was preparing for what she knew from experience would be a hectic 24 hours.

Juliana Torres, 16, left, and Micaela Lattimer, 16, rally in support of DACA outside the White House after President Trump announced an end to the program. Jacquelyn Martin/AP Photo

In anticipation of the DACA announcement, on Monday evening Silva and Dream Big Vegas set up a hotline for immigrants to call for information and began distributing the news they’d received through their political connections.

After waking up before sunrise on Tuesday morning, Silva and her allies gathered at the office of the Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada (PLAN), a local NGO, to watch Sessions’ speech at 8 a.m. For the 10 minutes that Sessions addressed the nation, her phone, constantly chirping up to this point, fell silent.

“I pictured all of the young immigrants and their families out there watching, silent, taking it all in,” Silva says.

The attorney general left the podium without taking a single question, and shortly after queries started to light up Silva’s phone. First it was a buzz here and there. Twenty minutes after the announcement it was a flood. “What date was he referring to?” “Six months from today?” “Can I still renew?” “What should I do next?”

There were emails, voicemails, text messages, calls and tweets reaching out to Dream Big Vegas. Silva alone received hundreds of messages.

“We started to get a lot of text messages that were along the lines of ‘Hi, my name is this. I’m scared,’” Silva says. “That was really surprising and very impactful. There’s a concentrated group of DACA recipients that are vocal here, but there are 13,000 here in Nevada and most of them are still not very comfortable being public.”

Throughout the day, Silva took any quiet moment to respond. “Even if I didn’t know the answer to their question yet, I wanted to acknowledge we’d received the message and were working on it for them.”

Now a well known voice of the immigrants’ rights movement, Silva also powered through a slate of media appearances and interviews for radio, TV and print. At 9 a.m. she was at a TV studio just west of the Las Vegas Strip doing satellite feeds with CNN’s Wolf Blitzer and Fusion’s Jorge Ramos.

“I did a radio interview in the car on the way over and then was there when the doors opened at the studio,” she said. “Like once a year there is a big immigration announcement and I go in, so they know me well enough now they had a Dr. Pepper waiting for me. It was great, it was the first thing I’d had all day. … I get it, people know me and I speak for these groups, but I’m always eager to get back to the community work.”

“I pictured all of the young immigrants and their families out there watching, silent, taking it all in.”

By 10:30 a.m. she was back at the PLAN office, reconvening with other community organizers to throw together an event in the evening with immigration lawyers, non-profit organizations, charities, immigrant groups and anyone else who wanted to help.

At 1 p.m. she headed to the East Las Vegas Community Center for a press conference packed with cameras and about 30 representatives of the immigrant community, including several DACA recipients. Tom Petty’s “I Won’t Back Down,” the Dream Big Vegas anthem, came over the speakers, and Silva took it as a sign.

“That was amazing. Things were all coming together really quickly, but we brought some DACA recipients to speak out. They said: ‘We have DACA, and we’re ready to fight.’”

Silva speaking during the first day of the 2016 Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia. Paul Sancya/AP Photo

For the next few hours she answered more messages and completed more interviews while helping to organize the 6 p.m. meeting also at the East Las Vegas Community Center. More than 600 people showed up. Even after the center’s parking lot filled and the event was supposed to end, people kept coming.

Inside, Jose Macias, another Dream Big Vegas member and their resident bullhorn master, got the standing-room-only crowd fired up with chants of “Here to Stay!,” “Sí Se Puede!” and “Trump says go away; we say no way!”

“One of the most moving things, one of the most amazing things I’ve seen in the past nine years happened,” Silva says. “I went up on stage and I asked everybody to turn off their cameras and put them away. I then asked everyone there who has DACA to stand up. I wasn’t expecting that many, but a lot of people stood and they were all through the audience. People were looking around, and there were people crying. Some of them, I bet it was their first time being public like that. It was extremely brave and courageous of them.”

Several local immigration lawyers offered free consultations in one of the community center’s classrooms. Dozens of organizations gave out information and promised future assistance. By the end of the event, Dream Big Vegas had a stack of 150 registration cards.

At 9 p.m. Tuesday, Silva and a crew of family and friends went for dinner at Tacos el Gordo on Charleston Boulevard. “We didn’t talk about anything except tacos and regular stuff. We watched my nephew, who just turned two, eat his tacos like they were the last ones on Earth. We took a moment to just be people,” she says.

Exhausted, Silva got someone else to fill in for her scheduled 11 p.m. live television appearance on local news. At 10 p.m. she was home and back to answering texts and messages that had accumulated during the day. She put on The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers while she worked, fast forwarding to the Battle of Helm’s Deep, where the film’s heroes are overwhelmed and outnumbered.

“It’s a shitty battle, and they have nobody to back them up, but then halfway through the elves arrive,” Silva explains. “We didn’t have anybody backing us up, but then some allies showed up. But they break through the wall, the battle is still going crappy and all of the badass elves are dead. Then, Gandalf comes in with his reinforcements and saves them from defeat. It’s like us. There are wins and losses, but we keep picking up allies.”

Around midnight Silva turned in. She was up again by 5:30 a.m. Wednesday, preparing for 6 a.m. media interviews, then heading to work at the law office to answer more questions and begin sifting through the administration memos on how the dismantling of DACA will be handled. She still had 155 unanswered emails from Tuesday.

“I would want them all to know one thing,” Silva says of DACA recipients. “We are going to keep fighting, and now that they are all with us, it’s a bigger fight.”