I’m Varsha Prabhu, and I dream of the American Dream

People always assume falsely that it was my father’s end goal for my family to move to the United States. It was not. It was a chance job offer that catalyzed a one way trip from Toronto, Ontario to Columbus, Ohio.

I’ve lived in the same Columbus suburb since I was eight years old. I’ve graduated elementary school, middle school, high school, and eventually will graduate from college here. But despite spending my formative years here, I have no clear pathway to citizenship.

Documented dreamers are those that have lived in the United States for most of their lives with a documented status, but age out of their parent’s visa at the age of 21. This was something that weighed on my mind heavily while applying for colleges. If I stayed in the States for college, this meant I would have to switch to an international student visa around the age of 21, and fully acknowledge that a country and state I’ve lived in since I was a child considered me an outsider. I almost returned back to Canada for college because of the distress this concept caused me. I did not want to live in a country that considered me an outsider.

A chance chain of events that required me to stay close to family later, and I found myself attending college in the States anyways. My status qualified me for practically no aid, so the only financially feasible option for my family was the State college nearby while commuting 30 minutes away from my parents’ home. I love my university, but I loathe the fact that my status took away the concept of choice in where I attend for me.

I am currently working towards an undergraduate degree in psychology with the goal of eventually attending medical school. I’ve watched the toll dealing with the American immigration system has taken on my parents’ health throughout the years. I’ve watched as their bodies ached and pained for seemingly no reason. I’ve watched them dodge questions from physicians asking them what possibly is causing them so much stress. I’ve watched their distrust of physicians who would simply tell them to “apply for citizenship” grow throughout the years. I’ve watched them unable to access the healthcare they both needed and deserved.

I want to add my voice into the healthcare world to advocate for the unique struggles that immigrants face, and help them feel more at ease receiving healthcare. But despite being an immigrant who has grown up in the States for most of my life, my immigration status has not made this easy for me.

On a dependent visa, I am not eligible to work. Many entry level research and healthcare jobs require one to be both certified and paid. How am I supposed to demonstrate my scientific knowledge if the most basic of research positions do not want me? How am I supposed to demonstrate an interest in healthcare if even the most basic of jobs are inaccessible to me? How am I supposed to demonstrate to med schools that I am interested in healthcare if I have practically no patient experience under my belt?

All things considered, I’ve persevered. I consider myself to be incredibly successful despite my circumstances. I’ve currently been able to gain patient care experience through volunteering at a local hospice, and with the help of a classmate and professor, published my first research article in December 2021. I consider myself to be incredibly fortunate, because my dreams are still very much within grasp because of my drive (internal) and Canadian citizenship (external).

I don’t face a lot of the struggles that other documented dreamers face. If my international student visa does not get processed before I turn 21, as long as it’s been filed for, I don’t need to self deport. Canadians are allowed to freely remain in the States without a visa. My family does not need to be separated. Although the number of medical schools that I can apply for drastically decreases because of my status, the number that I can apply to is still more than the average documented dreamer. Of the medical schools that accept international students, many hold a preference towards Canadians. My dreams are still very much within my grasp.

But these aren’t struggles that me, or any other documented dreamer for that matter should have to face. I should not have had to ever question if there was ever a future for me here in America. Documented dreamers are American, regardless of what a paper tells us. The American government may be rushing to forget about us, but I will not let it.

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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.