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Democrats call to include ‘documented Dreamers’ in reconciliation

Protections urged for children of visa holders who have aged out of system

Rep. Deborah Ross, D-N.C., speaks during a July 21 news conference.
Rep. Deborah Ross, D-N.C., speaks during a July 21 news conference. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Nearly two dozen House Democrats are calling on congressional leaders to include a pathway to citizenship not only for undocumented immigrants in their budget reconciliation measure, but also for foreign citizens who grew up in the U.S. legally.

In a letter sent late Monday and first obtained by CQ Roll Call, the lawmakers asked Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., to establish a path to green cards for people raised and educated in the U.S. as dependents on their parents’ work visas — but who find themselves without status of their own upon turning 21.

Some of those people, particularly those originally from India and China, may have aged out of their parents’ visas while stuck waiting in a years-long backlog for a green card. Others may have been dependents on work visas that do not lead to a green card.

These young people, referred to as “documented Dreamers,” must then switch to student visas if they are in college, and then hope to find an employer to sponsor them for limited work visas. If they can’t, many have to leave their families and “self-deport” to a country they may not even remember.

They are also not covered by the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which provides deportation protection and work permits only to those without legal immigration status.

“There is strong bipartisan support for providing relief to Documented Dreamers, and we ask that you consider including all Dreamers — both those who came to this country without documentation as well as young people who have maintained status as dependents — in any upcoming reconciliation bill,” the lawmakers wrote in their Monday letter, led by Rep. Deborah K. Ross, D-N.C.

Other signatories included Rep. Linda T. Sanchez, D-Calif., who spearheaded the White House-backed comprehensive immigration legislation in the House, and Rep. Kathy Manning, another North Carolina Democrat and a former immigration lawyer.

[Former immigration lawyers aim to cut through political noise]

Ross’ district includes areas near the so-called Research Triangle encompassing North Carolina State University, Duke University and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She said this issue for children of high-skilled work visa holders was “the number one thing that I heard about” in some immigrant communities while campaigning.

“I met some of these documented Dreamers, and it’s just heartbreaking that they would grow up here, and then have to be ripped away from their families and go back to a country that they don’t even know because our system is so flawed,” Ross said in an interview.

Ross introduced standalone bipartisan legislation in July to create a path to permanent residency for children who grew up here as work visa dependents, covering those who currently have legal status, have lived in the U.S. for an aggregate 10 years, and have graduated from an American university.

The bill would also protect some of the children of work visa holders in the future by freezing their ages at the time of their parent’s green card application, preventing them from aging out while they wait in a backlog.

A rare immigration bill with significant bipartisan support, Ross’ proposal has 15 co-sponsors, including six House Republicans.

Sen. Alex Padilla, the California Democrat in charge of the Judiciary Committee’s immigration panel, is expected to introduce the Senate version of the legislation soon, according to his spokesperson.

Dip Patel, the founder of Improve the Dream, which advocates for documented Dreamers, said he hopes to see a proposal to help this population gain traction in Congress, given its bipartisan support.

Patel was born in India, but moved to Canada when he was 4, and the U.S. when he was 9. He earned his doctor of pharmacy in 2019 and now works as a pharmacist in the Chicago area.

He believes the American public would be largely supportive of measures to help documented Dreamers, noting many people believe that all children who grow up here legally are already eligible to apply for green cards.

“It’s something that, once it’s public and most Americans learn about it, people would be like, ‘Wait, isn’t this already a thing?’” Patel said in an interview.

Reconciliation chances

It’s unclear whether Senate Democrats can — or will — include protections for documented Dreamers in any legislation passed through the budget reconciliation process, which allows measures that directly affected the federal budget to advance with a filibuster-proof majority.

Instructions attached Monday to Senate Democrats’ $3.5 trillion reconciliation measure directed the Judiciary Committee to include a path to permanent status for “qualified immigrants.”

When asked last week about documented Dreamers who age out of their parents’ green card applications, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said the idea is “not in the current discussions” on reconciliation, “but it is something the President would like to address.”

Ross said that she has spoken to Senate Judiciary Chairman Richard J. Durbin, D-Ill., about helping documented Dreamers, though they did not specifically discuss doing it through reconciliation. Durbin “agrees that they need to be included” in Democrats’ immigration plans, according to Ross.

“I think if immigration is included in reconciliation, the word has gone out not to leave these folks behind,” she said.

A spokesperson for Durbin didn’t respond to a request for comment Monday on what categories of immigrants the committee plans to include in the reconciliation measure.

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