By Katy Murdza, Immigration Impact
A lesser-known group of young people who grew up in the United States with immigration status—typically the children of noncitizens who entered the U.S. on temporary work visas—is increasingly at risk of deportation.
They are known as Documented Dreamers, and when these young adults turn 21, they “age out” of their previous lawful status, which was tied to their parents’ visas. They are then required to seek and obtain immigration status on their own or to depart the country. If they fail to depart, they run the risk of being subjected to immigration enforcement and potential deportation.
If a parent can adjust to Lawful Permanent Resident (LPR) status, also known as a green card, before their children turn 21, the children are eligible to obtain permanent residency through the same process. But many temporary workers are not eligible to adjust their status. And others are trapped in years-long green card backlogs, like many immigrant workers from India and China who must wait for years to adjust status due to per-country caps. One study found that some Indian nationals would have to wait up to 89 years to receive a green card.
In April 2020, there were an estimated 253,293 children waiting to obtain a green card through their parents’ employment-based immigrant visa petitions. It is estimated that over 100,000 of them will age out before their families can adjust.
Many undocumented Dreamers have been eligible for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) status. But one of DACA’s requirements is that the individual must have “had no lawful status on June 15, 2012,” leaving most Documented Dreamers ineligible.
Documented Dreamers have recently garnered more public attention. Documented Dreamer Pareen Mhatre testified at a Congressional hearing on barriers to legal immigration in April 2021. Proposed legislation that would provide relief to some Documented Dreamers remains pending.
The Dream Act might provide a path to citizenship for certain Documented Dreamers, depending on which version of the bill passes Congress. The American Dream and Promise Act of 2021 (H.R. 6), which is currently pending in the U.S. House of Representatives, would provide a path to citizenship for most Documented Dreamers currently in the United States, and some who have already had to leave the country.
The America’s CHILDREN Act of 2021 (H.R. 4331) is the first proposed legislation focused on Documented Dreamers to have broad bipartisan support in both chambers. It would also provide a path to citizenship for certain Documented Dreamers and has several advantages over H.R. 6.
First, the bill includes the children of parents who entered the country with several additional types of temporary work visas. H.R. 4331 would also create a permanent path to citizenship for current and future Documented Dreamers, instead of a one-time protection for a certain group of them. The bill would also prevent Documented Dreamers from aging out as long as an immigrant visa petition or labor certification application is filed on their parent’s behalf before the child turns 21. Finally, H.R. 4331 would not exclude people based on criminal history, except on grounds of national security. The bill would require Documented Dreamers to have graduated from an institution of higher education.
For many Documented Dreamers, the United States in the only country they know. Like other immigrant youth, many do not speak the language or fully understand the culture of their countries of birth. Years-long green card backlogs are forcing them into the impossible choice of separating from their families and communities or risking deportation. Congress and the executive can and should work to correct this injustice.