Hope for children of documented dreamers lies with new bipartisan bill

Ritu Jha-

Pareen Mhatre on turning 21 says being an adult is a scary feeling. “It hurts because you have stayed in this country for as long as you can remember, and at 21, the country treats you like a foreigner. That kind of feeling that we have to fight with.”

Mhatre is one of more than 200,000 children and young adults living in the United States as dependents of long-term non-immigrant visa holders (including H-1B, L-1, E-1, and E-2 workers). These documented dreamers grow up in the US, but their dependent visas expire at age 21, forcing many of them to self-deport to countries they might not even know or have any connection with.

“The older we get, the more we realize how complicated it is,” Mhatre told indica over the phone from Iowa. She speaks on behalf of the children of Documented Dreamers. She advocates for Improve the Dream, a youth-led organization that supports, empowers, and advocates for young immigrants, who have grown up in the United States as child dependents of visa holders, through engagement, education, resources, and research.

According to Improve the Dream, “Since 2017, we have been raising awareness for the over 200,000 Documented Dreamers who have face aging out of the immigration system. Our parents brought us here at an average age of five, and we have been living here for an average time of over 12 years, but due to various issues in the immigration system, we don’t have a clear path to citizenship. We are advocating for change that permanently ends “aging-out” and provides a path to citizenship for every child who grows up in the United States, regardless of status. We hope to have an opportunity to stay and contribute in the United States, as over 99% of affected individuals pursue higher education, of which 87% are pursuing or have completed education in a STEM field.”

Mhatre came to the US when she was four months old. Her parents came on F1 student visas, giving Mhatre an F2 status. When her parents’ status changed to H1-B, her visa status shifted to H4 dependent visa.

As a student, though, Mhatre’s present status is F1. Last year, after her 21st birthday, she moved to B2 visa to maintain the legal status. In June, her F1 international visa arrived and she will graduate soon.

“It seems like a generational thing at this point,” she said. “I am on a student visa, and my mom and dad came on F1.”

Last week, Ajay Bhutoria[Above photo center], a member of the President’s Advisory Commission on Asian Americans, Native Hawaiians, and Pacific Islanders, made recommendations to both President Joe Biden and U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).

USCIS is an agency of the United States Department of Homeland Security (DHS) that administers the country’s naturalization and immigration system.

“They cannot access any facility offered to legal citizens. Children lose work authorization and opportunities in to stay in this country,” said Bhutoria. “The commission recommends that the USCIS take steps to address children aging out of their eligibility and be included in their parents’ green card application and not losing their status at age 21. USCIS should amend its regulation.”

Bhutoria said that USCIS should immediately move out aging kids to another visa status which will allow them to live and work in the US and file for a green card application as well.

He also urged the USCIS to allow aged-out children to retain their parents’ green card applications and permit the aged out to file green card applications using the priority date of the visa filed by their parents’ employers.

He believes doing this will help 200,000 children and many more who have been legally staying in the US.

Dip Patel, president, ImproveTheDream.org, told indica, “The situation is bad and continues to get worse. Ten thousand children of long-term visa holders face self-deportation every year even though they have lawfully lived here.”

Can documented dreamers hope to get justice soon? Patel sounded hopeful because, he said, the America’s Children Act (HR 4331 and S 2753), is a bipartisan bill that provides permanent protections for children of long-term visa holders and a mechanism to allow for permanent residency.

“Senators Thom Tillis (R-NC) and Kyrsten Sinema (Ind-Ariz) are working on the border bill which we hope can include documented dreamers and provisions from America’s Children Act.”

Patel said he is hopeful of its inclusion in the omnibus bill soon going to President Biden’s table.,

“There has been a huge push and the fact that 19 senators and 50 Congressmen already signed a letter asking the administration to do this gives hope,“ Patel said. He has been advocating this cause for the last five years.

When he started, no one was paying attention to this issue and it was very hard to get even one senator to help them.

Earlier this year, the House also passed the age-out protection provisions in the NDAA (a must-pass defense bill), but unfortunately, since the Senate did not include those, they did not stay in the final version.

“We are advocating to ensure that this can pass by the end of the year in any end-of-the-year bill, including the omnibus,” Patel reiterated.

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