Padma Danturty has been a legal resident of the United States since she was 8 months old. But had she come to the country illegally, her future in the U.S. probably would be more secure.
That's because 18-year-old Danturty does not qualify for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which protects about 650,000 young immigrants who came to the U.S. unlawfully as children through no fault of their own. DACA beneficiaries, known as "Dreamers," are protected from deportation and able to apply for work permits.
Danturty, meanwhile, is one of about 200,000 "Documented Dreamers," people brought to the U.S. legally by parents who obtained work or student visas. These children face deportation if they are unable to obtain a green card or visa by the time they turn 21.
"I have no memory of it," she says of India, where she was born. "I can barely speak my native language, so it would be really hard to communicate. I don't know what I would do exactly."
The America's Cultivation of Hope and Inclusion for Long-Term Dependents Raised and Educated Natively Act would eliminate this nightmare scenario. Documented Dreamers would no longer have to race against time to avoid being sent to a foreign country. The bill would also allow Documented Dreamers to legally work in the U.S. and obtain driver's licenses in states where they currently cannot.
"I've heard from a number of my constituents that it affects their families," says Rep. Deborah Ross (D–N.C.), who introduced the House version of the bill earlier this year. "Many of their children come at young ages and really don't know any other place….The parents might even be able to stay with a [work] visa, but the child would have to leave. It's a heartbreaking situation."
Pareen Mhatre, 21, arrived in the U.S. when she was 4 months old. Her parents have remained on work visas as they wait for green cards, wading for years through a forest of red tape as Mhatre's clock kept ticking. If time runs out on her current visa, they will be allowed to stay, but she will have to leave for India.
"I've lived in this country for the past 21 years," she says. "It's really the only country I know."