“Documented Dreamers” Calls on Congress to End Self-Deportation and Family Separation

IOWA CITY, Iowa – They grow up in America as de facto Americans, then suddenly face the prospect of self-deportation and family separation.

An estimated 200,000 young immigrants living legally in the United States for years as dependents of their parents on temporary work visas are aging out of the program in a precarious legal limbo, according to immigrant advocates.

“All I know is American. It just doesn’t make sense for me to go back to a country I lived in for 4 months, ”said Pareen Mhatre, 21, a final year student at the University of Iowa and daughter of Indian immigrants who arrived in the United States two decades ago. and have built careers with long-term work visas.

“My family and I did it all through the book,” Mhatre said. “We have maintained a documented status and we are still stuck in this decades-long line. [for a green card]. “

Visa caps and long backlogs for green card applications – especially for foreign nationals from India and China, who can wait up to 89 years for permanent residence, according to the US Immigration Council – worsened the situation of long-term visa children. holders. Once they become adults, their dependent visas expire and they are also withdrawn from pending green card applications filed with their parents.

“There just hasn’t been enough attention to this particular flaw in the immigration system,” said Dip Patel, founder of advocacy group Improve the Dream.

The government has granted protection and work visas to hundreds of thousands of undocumented immigrants – known as “Dreamers” after the never-passed DREAM law – through Deferred Action for Arrivals. children, or DACA, but the so-called “Documented Dreamers” do not. t qualify.

A prerequisite for DACA status is illegal entry into the United States. Children of parents holding immigrant work visas like Pareen have legally resided in the country.

“There are options for these young immigrants, but all of those options are overdue for the most part,” said immigration lawyer Jessica Malott. “So it’s not something for sure, it’s going to happen immediately.”

In a statement to ABC News, the Department of Homeland Security cited several factors contributing to the backlog, including the pandemic and the lack of adequate staff, and promised officials will work to resolve the issue.

“DHS is aware of the predicament these documented dreamers face and is working to find legal ways to provide relief where possible,” the agency said.

The issue has also recently come to the attention of Congress, where members of the House and Senate from both parties have introduced legislation to lift the threat of deportation and inability to work of this category of legal immigrants.

“Once you meet them, you realize what a contribution they are already making to this country and what more important contributions they will make in the future,” said Representative Deborah Ross, DN.C., who co-sponsors America’s CHILDREN. Take action in the House.

“What he does is he paves the way for residency and ultimately, after residency, one of those dreamers could apply for citizenship so that a young person doesn’t have to to self-evict immediately, ”she said of the legislation.

“Those kids who have legally called the United States home for many years, if not decades (…) should not be penalized by the government’s failures to remedy green card backlogs,” Paul said in a statement. communicated.

After turning 21 in April, Mhatre was able to extend her legal status by obtaining a short-term student visa while she completes her studies in biomedical engineering. After that, she will either have to win a lottery work visa or self-deport to India.

“I knew I wasn’t an American citizen, but I thought I was a permanent resident because America was the only place I had known,” Mhatre said of her upbringing in Iowa City , Iowa.

“Like ‘dreamers’, we come to this country as young children. We grow up, and at some point – at many points – in our lives, we are faced with an aspect of self-eviction. what I know is American. It’s just It doesn’t make sense for me to go back to a country where I’ve been living for 4 months, “she said.

Some families have already experienced slow family separations under the policy.

Byung Yoon, a small business owner and father of three in Portland, Oregon, said his eldest son no longer had a dependent visa and had to return to South Korea on his own. Her 17-year-old daughter Hilary – who has lived in the United States since she was a baby – could be next.

“The only thing I know about Korea is what I see in the media or what my family says. Personally, I have no recollection of Korea, ”said Hilary Yoon.

“She doesn’t speak Korean very well, and she doesn’t understand Korean culture very well,” her father added. “We believe that some sort of immigration law will pass. America is a land of immigrants.

Patel, who is himself a documented Indian dreamer, is optimistic that Congress finally understands the scale of the problem and is taking action to address it.

“I think at last we are at a point where people are starting to recognize that this was a problem in the immigration system that really needs to be addressed,” he said. “We’re just going to keep pushing until we can get it. And I hope we’re really close.”

Mhatre, who told her story during testimony before the House Judiciary Committee earlier this year, said she was clear-headed about the long chances that any immigration reform faced, but found hope in his deep love for America.

“There were times when even I wondered why are we doing this, you know, because those times were incredibly difficult for my family. But, she added, ‘this country is my home.’

ABC News’ Quinn Owen contributed to this report.

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