Sunday, November 28, 2021
While teaching immigration law, I learned of two college students at the university where I was teaching who were wringing their hands about an immigration issue. The siblings were four years apart in age, and they had come to the US to attend separate colleges on student visas. The older sibling graduated from college, found a job with an employer willing to sponsor a temporary work visa, and took additional courses on the side while applying to professional schools. The younger sibling was a sophomore when his immigrant parents decided to migrate to the US on employment-based visas and applied for green cards for themselves and their family. A grandparent unexpectedly passed, spurring the parents to travel abroad for a hastily-scheduled funeral and to remain longer than expected to assist with the care for the bereaved partner. Before returning to the US, the parents learned they had not obtained proper authorization for their travel and may have trouble re-entering. If they successfully re-entered, the parents' application for a green card may be jeopardized... and if the parents' green card faltered, so might the derivative applications for their college-aged kids. The younger breathed a sigh of relief when the travel issue was resolved. A year later, he received a green card along with his parents. His older sister knew that staying in the US would not be so easy for her; because she was already 21-years old, she would need to find a way to extend her temporary work visa or enroll in another university that would sponsor her student visa. Luckily, she was admitted to a professional school just in the nick of time. Otherwise, she would have needed to return to a home country where her family no longer lived and where she didn't have a job or housing lined up.
It's known as "aging out," and according to experts interviewed by CNN about 200,000 people are living in similar situations. Brought legally to the United States as children, as their twenty-first birthdays approach, many scramble to find ways to stay in the country. Some are forced to leave the US if they cannot find a valid way to continue their lives in the US. The CNN story quotes Dip Patel, a 25-year-old pharmacist who has experienced this harsh reality. Patel is the founder of Improve the Dream, a group of young adults who call themselves "documented DREAMers" and who are pressing Congress and the Biden administration to help save their futures.
"The whole situation is something that most people don't really know even exists: that it's possible for an immigrant child to be brought here legally, do all their education here, but still not have a chance to become an American."
A growing number of people are impacted, according to Julia Gelatt, a senior policy analyst at the Migration Policy Institute. One groups is impacted by the green card backlog. For immigrants from India, it can take decades for them even to have a chance to apply. During that time, people who came to the US as young children are still waiting for their family's turn by the time they turn 21 and are no longer considered dependents. Consequently, they lose their place in line. A second group come from families whose temporary work visas don't make them eligible to apply to become permanent residents. Because the young adults in these temporary worker families had visas allowing them to live legally in the United States initially, they weren't protected by the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program (DACA), which provided work permits and protection from deportation to other young adults who came to the U.S. as undocumented children.
More information on Documented DREAMers and the proposed law they hope Congress will pass, which would give "documented Dreamers" a chance to become permanent residents of the US provided they've lived here for at least 10 years on a valid visa and graduated from an institution of higher education, can be found here and here.