“This was just the beginning of my eyes opening to injustices that thrived on immigrants’ hard work all around me.”- Vidushi S.

The American Dream is defined as “the ideal by which equality of opportunity is available to any American, allowing the highest aspirations and goals to be achieved”. It was something I strived for, before I understood the concept. My family moving to the US was a big deal, as the States are glorified and romanticized as a place with endless opportunities. And growing up, that is what I saw it as: a magical place with snow and cleanliness, where the streets weren’t littered with the tragic remnants of poverty. I took a lot of pride, maybe a little too much, in the fact that I lived in the US. It was a beautiful life, and I was in the United States and my primal mind thought I could do anything I wanted. I didn’t think much until high school as all of my friends began getting small part time jobs. As someone on an H4 dependent visa, I could not work.  I didn’t understand why. I had lived here almost my entire life, like them, but I couldn’t get a job as a Starbucks barista? I didn’t think much of it, and my dad told me not to worry much about it. I was very fortunate and grateful because I had never had a shortage of anything in my life. This was just the beginning of my eyes opening to injustices that thrived on immigrants’ hard work all around me. College applications are stressful enough for everyone, but having so many questions as an H4 holder added layers of a different kind of stress. It inhibited my eligibility for financial aid and almost every scholarship. I got into a top five art program where they do co-ops. I am a second year student right now and begin my first co-op this coming summer. Now comes a different battle – if I don’t get my work permit in time, I may have to switch to an F1 visa status where I will be eligible to work, but I will become an official international student and have to start paying international fees.

Moral of the story is: American Dream is based on privilege and is not equally accessible to everyone. Some people have to work much harder to acquire their American Dream, and I’ve fallen into that category. As hard as it is to stay positive about it all, I always hope for the best but expect the worst so I can be prepared.

“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.”- Dip P.

“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. 

“She was Different.” – Damita T.

Different.

who knew one word could radiate so much negativity

like being split between two worlds, never good enough for either

alienated by her food, her clothing, her language

they didn’t even let her be ‘normal’; they barely respected her

“status, status, status.”— the word mocked her everytime she heard it

she would never be like them


the anxiety was a monstrous shadow lurking around her room

she was trapped on a cliff inside her own brain

will she face the beast or jump?

tik tok, tik tok, tik tok— interrupts her state of horrors

opening her eyes up to a blinking 3:00 am, the cycle continued

the bags under her eyes grew like her fears

if she barely got enough sleep, how was she meant to dream the American Dream?


in reality she is the bridge between both countries she calls her home

despite living in terror of being snatched away from her childhood,

she smiles 

in the world that overlooked her determination, passion and strength

she shows them something her status does not determine: her success

this time you could hear her scream with pride, 

she was Different.

“Life at times can feel suffocating especially moments you never see coming. In the end, I learned a valuable lesson: my immigration status does not determine my worth, character, or humaneness.”- Aarushi S.

‘Moving’ is not a foreign term to me, it’s a part of me. Whether it be moving from Europe to India or venturing to America for higher studies, starting my life over was something I had to brace myself to do every time. Having the opportunity to spend my years in different countries was rewarding, but also lonely. Being the new kid and making new friends, again and again, felt like an exhausting never-ending cycle.

America was the first place that felt like home- The people, the diversity, the culture. For the first time, I felt like I belonged. The phrase ‘You could do anything’ was something that stuck with me. It gave me hope and made me believe I could achieve my own American Dream. But, I soon realized this was not the case for me. During college apps, I found out that my Visa status could lead to possible deportation when I turned 21. I was not eligible for financial aid or a paying job which left me even more blindsided.

My senior year felt dark after that. I felt as if everything I put work into didn’t matter. There were times where I didn’t even know if I had a future anymore. I felt isolated since no one I personally knew had an issue close to this. I didn’t know who to go for a shoulder to cry on and get advice from. Everything I did remind me of the fact that I was different from my peers. My worth felt like it fell down to my visa status. It felt haunting to know there was a chance of me losing my newfound home for something out of my control. I felt like an unseen outsider in the place I called home.

I was angry with my parents for putting me in a situation like this. But I soon realized that they just wanted the best for me. My parents gave up everything just so I could accomplish my dreams, I can not take that for granted.

Life at times can feel suffocating especially moments you never see coming. In the end, I learned a valuable lesson: my immigration status does not determine my worth, character, or humaneness. I am not alone in this. The immigration system can be frustrating, but I do have faith that one day it will be a fair system for everyone regardless of race, faith, sexuality, or creed.

“Although I’m just sixteen, I have big dreams and a life of my own. If I don’t get a green card by the time I am 21, I don’t know if I will ever be able to achieve those dreams.”- Jyotsna

Green card

Many don’t know what the word above means. But to me and thousands of kids like me, a green card means freedom, peace, and equal opportunity.

I came to the United States when I was just two years old and lived here for practically my entire life. Yet, I need the green card to validate my permanent residence in America. Not only am I unable to live the American Dream, I’m also deprived of opportunities many of my peers have. I can’t get a job or an internship, I can’t start a business, I can’t apply for scholarships, and I even have to fight to get in-state tuition. The country of opportunities has done nothing but let me and my family down.

My parents sacrificed everything to move to America in hope of giving me a brighter future. They have left their parents, missed important weddings and celebrations, and my dad wasn’t even able to see my grandpa for the last time. Even after all these sacrifices, we still live in the fear of deportation. Every time we have to renew our visa, I always fear that it may be denied, then what? All my family’s hard work and the lives we have built here goes down the drain.

Although I’m just sixteen, I have big dreams and a life of my own. If I don’t get a green card by the time I am 21, I don’t know if I will ever be able to achieve those dreams. I worry all the time if my student visa will be approved, or if any medical schools will accept me. But all I can do is hope. I can hope that one day our country will allow youth like me a chance at normal life. I can hope that one day I can actually live the American Dream. I can hope that one day I look back and make that little girl with big dreams proud.

On the last note, I wanted to share a quote from Biden’s 2020 victory speech.

“I have always believed we can define America in one word: possibilities; in America everyone should be given a opportunity to go as far their dreams and god given ability will take them”

I hope one day the thousands of kids like me will actually be given the opportunity to go as far as their dream and ability will take them.

“It’s as if I’m temporarily an outsider to my dreams- spending endless amounts of energy to persistently run towards a magical future that I can’t get a hold of.”- Pranitha K.

I was only 4 years old, but the memory remains crystal clear. I sat in the backseat of my Dad’s 1999 Honda Civic as my eyes glistened from the skyscraping buildings. The familiarity of hectic and vibrant landscapes faded into a calm, snow-covered city. I was filled with optimistic curiosity —little did I know about the struggles I would face from the moment I got off of that 19-hour flight from India. I still remember my first day of school: we were learning the alphabet. I recited the letters so confidently while the other kids pointed and laughed at my accent. My cheeks flushed with embarrassment; this was the first time in my life I felt different. I realized from a young age that I had to strip myself of my “Indian-ness” to feel a sense of belonging. I already had to leave my homeland, but the pieces that connected me to it needed to be deleted to be seen as more “normal.” I was forced to live the best of both worlds.

At school, I was a typical American kid surrounded by western culture. I wanted to be independent; I wanted to make money; I wanted to travel the world. I had the same dreams as any other American girl.

At home, I was the daughter of Indian immigrants. I spoke my native language with reserved freedom, and indulged in the delicacies that I kept hidden at the bottom of my lunch box. “How can I embrace myself in a society that tainted my culture with shame?”

Being an “American” came at the cost of my identity as I tried to bury the embarrassment from my first day of school. Even after I have assimilated, the unwelcoming feeling still haunts me: the immigration system makes policies instead of jokes that hit harder. It wasn’t my feelings this time, it was my future. How can I feel like I belong when I grew up the same way as my peers, but can’t be afforded the same chances as them because of a simple visa status?

I was raised in this country, but the one thing that differentiates me is how I came here just a few years later but those few years are holding my life back from me. It’s as if I’m temporarily an outsider to my dreams- spending endless amounts of energy to persistently run towards a magical future that I can’t get a hold of.

“I will accomplish my dreams regardless of my visa status. I just want to be seen as who I am: a girl with dreams.”- Prarthana

As a kid I never really worried about my visa. To be honest, I didn’t even know what it was. When my parents first told me “we are going to America with dad,” I was just excited to not go to school in India and get traumatized even more. Trust me, Indian schools are horrible. My parents moved back and forth many times. Every time we went back to India, we would have to go to the same office in Chennai and wait in a long line to answer the question on why we want to go back to America. As a kid, I just wanted to go home and eat maggie, but I could never figure out why we did all of this. It was because we were immigrants, and we needed an H4 visa to live here.

We immigrants move here to America to accomplish our dreams and to have that amazing life that we envisioned for all of us. To accomplish “The American Dream.” Every single time I tell people I am interested in something, I get bombarded with questions: “What is your back up?” “What if you don’t get in?” “Well you shouldn’t do it because that won’t get you a visa…” . I started to spiral; am I even worth it? Maybe this isn’t for me ? Every time I try to move closer to my goals and accomplish my dreams, I get blasted with these questions instead of encouragement. It makes me wonder what was the point of my family’s move if I can’t reach for my dreams?

“My immigrant story bridges my identities and simultaneously traps my dreams, but has given me the experiences of a lifetime.”- Rishika C.

”Preschool in Scotland? Wow, how cool!”

Yea, very cool, but only if it’s an experience – not a limitation. Sometimes it feels like my life is a real-world juxtaposition, one where I spent the first 3 years of existence traveling the world, only to spend the rest of it in one place. Birth in India, first birthday in Ohio, preschool in Scotland, and then life in Illinois. However, it doesn’t seem like this collocation is evenly balanced, as my nearly 15 years in Illinois have no legal significance against my 20 minutes of birth in India. I am an Indian citizen and a “temporary” resident of the United States, further buttressing my ironic life of a juxtaposition.

I am Indian by nature, but American by nurture. My immigrant story bridges my identities and simultaneously traps my dreams, but has given me the experiences of a lifetime.

“On days when I feel like just giving up, I remind myself that I am only 18, and that I have the rest of my life ahead of me. I’m too young to lose hope”- Lakshmi P.

Most people look forward to turning 21 but that is something that visa holders like me dread. Turning 21 means that I will age out of the system and have to fight to stay in this country, a country that I have lived in for the majority of my life.

I have known about my visa status since middle school, but I only understood the seriousness of the problem around junior year of high school. As my dad explained to me that I don’t qualify for in-state tuition or most financial aid, can’t easily pursue a career in health care, and would have to switch to a student visa before I turn 21, my whole world came crashing down. I entered a dark place and I began questioning everything. Why didn’t he tell me this earlier? What’s the point of working so hard? Despondent thoughts consumed me, and I spent countless days and nights worrying, and feeling so utterly powerless. It just didn’t make sense. I used to think that America was a country where everyone had equal opportunities. I used to think that if I worked hard, I could be anything I want to be. But I’ve come to realize that isn’t necessarily true. I just want to be able to visit my family back in India without the fear of not being able to return home. I just want to be able to have a part-time job. I just want a chance at stability. I just want to feel wanted.

I just want to be given a real chance to chase my American dream.

There are still some days when I question my existence in this country and lose hope. But I am in a much better state of mind now thanks to my parents. Their unwavering optimism about my future makes me believe that nothing is impossible. I’ve come to accept that everything happens for a reason, and that the difficulties I’ve faced have made me more human.

On days when I feel like just giving up, I remind myself that I am only 18, and that I have the rest of my life ahead of me. I’m too young to lose hope. I’m too young to give up on my dreams. My life is just starting…

“Trying to survive this system made me strong. But I live life with constant worry. I always have to think of consequences.”

It was supposed to be a 2 week trip. He would visit family he had not seen in over 12 years, get his visa stamped and then come home.

I can’t forget the day he got on the flight, March 11th. I called him when he was near the airport and said “Don’t go, I am worried the embassies might shut down”. He laughed it off and said “Unlikely! Plus I should get this immigration paperwork sorted out”

I even offered to drive him back to my apartment cause I only lived 10 minutes from the airport but he refused. Not a day goes by when I don’t beat myself up for not driving to the airport and trying harder to convince him to stay. Maybe that 10 minute drive would’ve made the difference.

Within 24 hours of him landing the embassies shut down. 3 months later the president issued an executive order. His embassy appointment has been moved 3 times so far.

Almost 7 months later the embassies are still partially shut down. We have no idea when he is going to be able to come home. The longer he is stuck the harder and more complicated it’s going to be to bring him home.

My dad is currently working east coast hours while in IST, which means he works through the night. I feel so guilty for making him push his body at his age.

I have tried everything. Petitions, talking to the senator’s office and endless lawyers. The most painful thing is it feels like my family has given up. But I am sick of setting up the dinner table for 3-when there should be 4.

I feel like i’m the only one still fighting to try and bring him home before the elections.

His company may take away his benefits in November. So I need to figure out health insurance…My mom is at risk of becoming undocumented and who knows what will happen to our house if both my parents have to go back. My brother is a minor and what if I need to become his legal guardian? I’m on a visa to and that’s not enough security for him. He deserves better.

Trying to survive this system made me strong. But I live life with constant worry. I always have to think of consequences. I am in my early 20s and I am playing the role of a parent at home. I honestly don’t know how much longer I have it in me to carry this weight