The proposed bill to support Dreamers does not include legal immigrant Dreamers, many of whom are Indians raised in the US but will be forced to deport.
Twenty-three-year-old DK (full name withheld on request) came to the United States from India when he was nine, along with his parents. His parents live and work in the US in specialty professions on a E2 visa.
However, since the E2 visa category does not offer a path to citizenship, DK, who is currently studying in the final semester of his pharmacy degree, would be forced to leave the country and return to India once he graduates. This is despite the fact that he grew up in the US, has his entire family here and knows no other home than America.
DK is not alone; he is amongst thousands of children of long-term visa holders in the United States, who would no longer be considered for Green Card, due to aging out. What makes matters particularly distressing for thousands of such students in America is that while the new proposed “American Dream and Promise Act,” which provides protection to the so-called Dreamers, or DACA students, it specifically leaves the legal dreamers out of this provision.
DACA, or “Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals,” is a policy put in place by the Obama administration that allows children of undocumented immigrants who were brought to the United States while they were minors protection from deportation.
The American Dream and Promise Act, introduced in the House last month, is currently before the chamber’s Judiciary Committee and the Committee on Education and Labor.
“A child who had similar experience such as mine could receive benefit under DACA and Dream Act,” DK says. “But ironically, since my parents maintained a lawful status throughout, I cannot avail of any protection. It is frustrating to know that if a child’s parents overstayed their visa, or came illegally, that child can get help with DACA and would qualify for Dream Act. But I do not. While we welcome the provision, we want equal opportunities.”
The current bill to help over two million Dreamers leaves out thousands of children that were brought to the country under legal non-immigrant visas in categories such as E, H or L.
Many such legal Dreamers – a term sometimes used to describe aging out children of lawful visa holders in the US – frustrated by the situation are now urging Congress to include them in the Dreamers Act. “Legal Dreamers, or kids on H4 visa, are the kids, who are not undocumented and migrated with their families,” says H4 visa advocate Netra Chavan. “But they cannot remain in the country past the age of 21. Either they have to self-deport, or find ways to change their visa status to F-1 or H-1B. The Dream Act needs to be reformed and must provide similar protection for children of H-1B recipients, too.”
Chavan adds, “H-1B visa holders, or the nonimmigrant aliens, are eligible to apply for Green Card. Their children are considered co-applicants for permanent residency, if they are unmarried and younger than 21 the time the application is filed. But H-1B visa holders can spend decades waiting for a green card in backlog. As the backlog of applications grows, H4 visa kids, who arrived during their childhood in the United States [and spent] the majority of their lives here ‘age out’ of their H4 status at age 21.
Last month, a petition was launched to engage more such students and create awareness about the plight of aging out children in America. The petition on Change.org, called “Improve the Dream Act,” was started by a legal Dreamer anonymously.
Speaking to the American Bazaar, the petitioner, who is currently in the US on F-1 visa, explained why there have been fewer voices arguing the case of aging out children. “Many of us are currently studying in the US on F-1 visa which requires that we show no intent to stay in the US,” the petitioner said. “Precisely for these reasons most of those in the situation prefer to remain anonymous and are scared to sign the petition. If we are unable to find employers who sponsor our work visas we have no choice but to leave our homes and families back here in the US.”
The petition calls that all future Dream Acts and legislation addressing DACA should remove the requirement that applicants be undocumented.
“Many children of H1B visa holders know little about their country of origin as they grew up here and often graduate from American public schools and seek to attend college in the United States,” Chavan said. “But unfortunately, they live under frustration and fear of self-deportation. At times, they are prohibited from sponsorship, they are not eligible for federal student loans, plus they are not authorized to do an internship and earn even a dollar.”
Author Amy Bhatt, who researches on migration and South Asian community formation, however, cautioned against pitting children of legal and illegal migrants. “There has been no congressional solution as yet for aging out kids,” she told the American Bazaar. “It is disturbing that legal Dreamers unfortunately are being used as a divisive issue to create a dichotomy between legal and illegal migrants. The truth is in both cases we are talking about children who are not to be held accountable for their parents’ actions. We must not forget also that Indians are amongst the third largest Asian groups in DACA so it is not productive to have a resentment.”
Bhatt said the solution to the issue is reforming the immigration laws. “The real need is that a closer look must be taken at the Green Card backlog, repeal the country limit and expedite the process,” she said. “Also, DALCA [“Deferred Action Legal Childhood Arrivals”] kids should be included in the DREAM Act so that the same amnesty can be provided to them too.”