Loopholes will prevent some Dreamers from qualifying for Budget Reconciliation Bill

Cheryl Coleman, Pareen Mhatre, Niranjana Save

While the existence of Documented Dreamers has been a result of the same hurdles in America’s immigration system, our stories are still different. As Congress moves ahead with a pathway to citizenship for millions of immigrants via the budget reconciliation bill, it is important to identify and fix loopholes in the bill that may prevent some Dreamers from qualifying.

Lori Lerman, born in Canada, immigrated to the United States when she was 13 years old on an E2 visa with her parents in March of 2013. Her parents came to the United States to start a small business, with hopes that Lori and her younger brother would be able to take advantage of opportunities and achieve their dreams. They opened a vehicle transmission and engine repair business, paid taxes, and happily employed American citizens. Along the process, both Lori and her brother received ITINs. However, due to their status, they were not able to work, build on life skills that many American-born children have the opportunity for, or give back to their communities through employment. While this may sound like a typical Documented Dreamer’s experience, it isn’t.

Lori graduated from a local high school that educates children with disabilities. She then went on to attend a transition program that ends at age 22, due to her medical diagnosis of mild intellectual delay, speech delay, memory issues and very low IQ. She doesn’t have the option to move to an F-1 student visa or go to university.

Due to her immigration status, however, Lori must self-deport to Canada when she turns 21, which will be on October 7, 2021. Lori will have to leave her support system, her ongoing education, her community, and the place she calls home.

As someone who is completely dependent on her guardians, Lori’s case is unique because she does not have the option to extend her self-deportation date by applying for a change-of-status to an F-1 student visa. At age 18, Lori’s mother was forced to apply for court-appointed guardianship for Lori to make her life choices and manage all aspects of her life. Now almost on the verge of turning 21, Lori can no longer have her mother as a guardian when she ages out of the immigration system. Lori will also be forced to go back to a country where there is no one for her to rely on. It is also unfair for her parents to be asked to move back to Canada with their daughter after moving to the United States for a better life, and working hard to establish a business where they employ American citizens and contribute to the economy.

Despite her situation, Lori is very much like any other American young adult. In her free time, she likes listening to music, going to the pool, and performing live musicals for her community through The Penguin Project.

Lori has less than one month before she has to leave her home. While most Documented Dreamers will be able to meet the requirements set forth in the current budget reconciliation bill, some like Lori will be barred from a pathway to citizenship. This is because Lori, unlike most Documented Dreamers, will not be able to complete higher education or a technical training program. An exemption for individuals with disabilities has previously been included in similar legislation and should be included in this one too.

Another loophole will prevent other Dreamers from qualifying due to the requirement of continuous physical presence or residence. In particular, because Documented Dreamers were excluded from DACA protection, they are often forced to self-deport after aging out of the system at 21. If they are fortunate, some are able to return on other temporary visas to extend their stay in the United States. However, in many cases, the gap in presence will disqualify them from qualifying if they were not present in the country on January 1, 2021 or were absent from the country for a longer period of time. Certain exceptions should be included to ensure some of these individuals who have spent more than a decade growing up in the United States are not left out.

We urge Congress to consider the stories of Dreamers who do not qualify for the reconciliation bill, despite growing up in the country. Lori and all other Dreamers who were brought to the United States as children deserve this path to citizenship.

Improve The Dream is a youth-led advocacy organization bringing awareness for over 200,000 children of long-term visa holders who face self-deportation, despite growing up in the United States with a documented status.

If you know someone who is a Documented Dreamer, please share the following link so they can join our advocacy community to stay updated and connect with other Documented Dreamers: ImproveTheDream.org/survey.

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Improve The Dream

We are a youth-led organization advocating for and supporting the 200k children of long-term visa holders who face self-deportation. Visit ImproveTheDream.org.