Documented Dreamers of Indian Origin Facing Self-Deportation
by Vrinda Punj
“If you’ve lived in the country legally for 15 years, why can’t you just get a green card?” If only it were that simple.
I was born in New Delhi, India and when I was just 6 years old I moved to Shrewsbury Massachusetts to live with my dad, who was working on a project here. My childhood here was filled with happy memories, such as biking around my neighborhood with my friends, swimming in the local pool in the evenings, and trick-or-treating on Halloween. These experiences, uniquely American, began to define who I was. When every morning, I put my hand on my heart and said the Pledge of Allegiance, I knew that my identity was that of an American.
Reality came crashing down for me when I was just 9 years old. My parents told me that we might have to leave the country as my Dad’s H1B was about to expire. As a child, I didn’t even know what a H1B visa was, all I knew was that I was an American. I didn’t understand why I was different, an alien, compared to all my peers? We wound up having to move to the United Kingdom when my dad’s H1B eventually ran out.
My father tried very hard to bring us back and a year and a half later we were fortunate that he got a project in America, and we were able to come back! I thought that coming back would mean that my problems were gone. I thought that I was an American and I could keep living in America! Little did I know that this would be just the beginning of a very long and painful immigration journey.
When I turned 16 years old, all my friends were starting their summer jobs. Many people were working at coffee shops and department stores. As someone who had little pocket-money, the opportunity to work excited me. I desperately wanted a job to earn some money on the side. It was heartbreaking when I found out I legally was not allowed to work, since I was a dependent on my dad’s visa. It was yet another reminder that the country I considered to be my home didn’t want me. There was a consistent gnawing feeling in me - I was different from everybody, and I didn’t know what I had done to deserve that.
I decided to move on and focus on getting into college - it was one of my biggest dreams to go to a good college. However, as a child on a dependent visa, I later found out that I was ineligible for ANY scholarships, federal loans, or even private loans since I was considered an international alien. At this point, my mental health had severely started to deteriorate. I faced many sleepless nights feeling that no matter how hard I worked in school, my chances of getting scholarships or going to a good college would not be possible, simply due to a status I could not control.
When I was graduating from high school, my options for colleges were exceptionally limited. I got into the University of Massachusetts Lowell as a Computer Science major, and I commuted to college daily to save money. I also realized something that would change my life forever. I realized I would have to self-deport from the United States when I turned 21.
Even though my parents had applied for a green card, Indian nationals were allowed fewer than 10,000 green cards a year and with over 800,000 H1B applicants, the estimate wait was between 80 to 150 years. There was no way my parents were going to get their green cards before I turned 21. I would get kicked out of their green card application and also lose my dependent visa status.
As a college student I was able to apply and get a F1 student visa which only served to affirm that I was an international alien. When it came to looking for a job, I was treated as an international student and many companies would turn me away without even looking at my resume. Unlike my peers, I also lacked work experience as I was not allowed to legally work in the US. Fortunately, I landed a job at Red Hat and they agreed to file an H1B application for me. Unfortunately, as the H1B visas are assigned through a lottery, I didn’t get picked.
I have done everything by the book. I managed to go to college without loans and scholarships, I studied hard and got good grades, I landed a job at a great software company, and yet my chances of staying in the country has come down to luck! I have two more chances at the H1B lottery while I am on my practical training visa. After that I will have to leave my parents, my younger sister, and my home and return to India, a country that I left 17 years ago!
I thought I was the only one in this situation, but I now realize there are more than 200,000 children who, like me, have grown up in the United States as legal documented dependents but will not be able to fulfil their dream of an American life. Last year, I joined a grassroots, youth-led advocacy group called Improve the Dream. It fights for these forgotten children, people known as Documented Dreamers, to prevent them from being deported from the only country that they have known as home.
Through sheer hard work and perseverance, Improve the Dream has introduced a bicameral and bipartisan legislation known as America’s Children Act, which will provide a pathway to citizenship and permanently end aging out for Documented Dreamers. I am the Massachusetts State Liaison for Improve the Dream.
If you are in this situation, a parent of someone in this situation, or know someone in this situation, we could use your help now more than ever. Please encourage any Documented Dreamers that you know to join Improve the Dream, so that they can find a community of people that fights for their rights.
I encourage you to send letters and to call your senators and representatives. More information about our community and advocacy efforts can be found on improvethedream.org. I also encourage Documented Dreamers in Massachusetts and their concerned parents to contact me. My phone number is 508-736-1965 and my email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
Justice delayed is justice denied. As a community we should fight to fulfil these children’s dreams of a successful life in the US. Let’s improve the dream for everyone!