“Can’t you just apply for citizenship?”
While growing up, I heard this all the time. After almost 16 years in the U.S, one would think that would be the case. Unfortunately, even though I consider myself an American, the country I call home does not.
My parents came to the U.S. in 2005 on an E2 Visa while I was in elementary school. At the time, I barely understood immigration and actually thought I was American like my friends. Naive me didn’t foresee the obstacles ahead. After a few years, I learned that our E2 visa doesn’t ever lead to citizenship. This also meant that I would “age out” at 21 and would have to find my own temporary way to stay. Meanwhile, I wouldn’t have the ability to work like my friends and would be considered an international student. I questioned why my parents moved to a country that would not let us become citizens and would make their children fight to be able to stay. However, I realize now that they moved here and gave up their dreams to give me the best chance to fulfill mine.
Over the years, I learned about legislation in Congress to provide a path to citizenship to immigrant youth who were brought here as children. My initial excitement turned into confusion when I realized that visa dependent children do not qualify. My frustration inspired me to bring awareness to the fact that it was possible to grow up as a dependent of a visa holder and still not have a clear path to citizenship. I started ImproveTheDream.org and began reaching out to congressional offices to advocate for an inclusive solution that would provide relief for all children who grow up in America, regardless of status. From meeting with several Members of Congress, one thing was clear: No one seems to understand how it’s possible for someone to grow up as a child of a long-term visa holder and still not have a clear path to citizenship.
The American Dream is clearly broken for too many of us. My hope is that one day, everyone who grows up in this country, whether undocumented or documented, will have a clear path to citizenship.