He, together with senator Rand Paul of the Republican party, has also introduced a bipartisan bill — ‘The America’s Children Act’ — to protect documented dreamers from aging out of their legal immigration status when they turn 21.
Documented (or legal) dreamers are the children who were brought to the US as kids. Their parents entered the US legally on non-immigrant visas such as the H-1B. When they age out (turn 21), they can no longer continue with their H-4 dependent visas.
The heart-wrenching story of Rajakumar, a fresh graduate of the University of Texas at Austin, is one among several such stories that documented dreamers routinely pour out — of having to transit to an international student visa on ageing out, which means higher fees, restricted work opportunities and limited scholarships; of the fear of having to self deport; of the challenges of obtaining a sponsorship for an H-1B visa if they wish to work in the US; and of getting cut out from the green-card queue.
The deep-rooted problem behind this is the country cap for green cards, which results in a decades-long wait for the Indian diaspora waiting for an employment based green card. According to an earlier study done by David Bier, a research fellow at Cato Institute, as of April 2020, 1.36 lakh children from Indian families were caught in the EB2 and EB3 employment-based green card category backlog, which had an estimated wait time of 84 years. Bier had pointed out that 62% of such children would age out without getting a green card.
At the hearing by the subcommittee, Rajakumar, a member of Improve the Dream, a youth-led organisation that is advocating fairness for the over two lakh documented dreamers, said she was brought to the US by her mother when she was four, along with her six-year-old brother. Her mother left an abusive marriage to give them a better life. After graduating from San Jose State University, she acquired a work visa and a full-time job. In 2012, she applied for a green card for herself and her two children. A decade later, Rajakumar had aged out while still backlogged. “My single mother worked hard to support me and my brother on her own. Things were hard, but I still remember making happy memories while building our new life like eating red, white and blue popsicles on the fourth of July driving, through neighborhoods to look at Christmas lights, and watching my first baseball game at the National Stadium. These uniquely American experiences are not only unforgettable but a part of who I am today.”
“ I learned very young that every aspect of my life would be controlled by my status. I could not participate in my high school’s French Exchange program, even though I was president of the French Club because I could not leave the country and guarantee my return. When I applied to colleges. I was considered an international student…,” said Rajakumar.
The stress and anxiety these children face is immense. Rajakumar also shared the story of the loss of her brother, whose goal was to be an immigration lawyer and speak out for documented dreamers. Unfortunately, he took his own life.
Self-deportation is a reality that looms large. “I can only describe this life as simply existing. Not living, but surviving. I’m 23 years old. I should be excited about my goals, but I’m scared because I know they’ll be taken away from me by something that I cannot control.” She spoke of job offers being withdrawn once employers learnt about her visa status.
“Improve the Dream hopes that one day everyone who grows up in America can become an American citizen and fully contribute to our country. Members of this sub-committee can make this a reality by passing the America’s Children Act, a bipartisan bill, that would permanently end aging out and ensure that children like me who are raised and educated with a documented status, receive a clear opportunity to apply for permanent residency. This bill would create a reality that most Americans likely assume already exists,” she concluded.
Rajakumar also raised the issue of the root-cause that needs to be addressed, the green card backlog and the flaws in the immigration system that do not provide a clear path to citizenship to lawful long-term residents.
During the hearing, senator Padilla secured a verbal commitment from ranking member John Cornyn and senate judiciary committee chair Dick Durbin to work on legislation to rectify the circumstances that documented dreamers like Rajakumar, have had to face in the immigration process.