Sens. Alex Padilla, D-Calif., and Rand Paul, R-Ky., proposed legislation Wednesday that would put so-called documented Dreamers, or foreign citizens who grew up legally in the U.S. on a parent’s work visa but then aged out, on a path to permanent residency.
A rare bipartisan effort on immigration, the bill would allow more than 200,000 people who came to the U.S. as children and graduated from American universities to apply for a green card. This would spare them from having to leave the country after they turn 21 — the point at which they become too old to remain on their parents’ visas.
“We cannot turn our backs on the ‘Documented Dreamers’ who have spent most of their lives in this country, contributing to their communities and our economy but face continued uncertainty and risk deportation once they turn 21,” Padilla, who chairs the Judiciary Committee’s immigration panel, said in a statement.
In particular, the legislation would help young adults, largely Indian citizens, who turned 21 while their parents were stuck waiting in lengthy green card backlogs caused by strict per-country visa caps the U.S. imposes.
In addition to giving these individuals a chance to apply for a green card on their own, the bill would prevent similar problems in the future by freezing kids’ ages at the time their parents apply for the family’s permanent residency, rather than when the green card actually becomes available.
Paul said in a statement that children who were raised in the U.S. with legal immigration status “shouldn’t be penalized by the government’s failures in addressing green card backlogs.”
“These children who have legally called the United States home for many years and even decades, are contributing members in our communities and to our economy,” he continued.
The bill would also help people who grew up in the U.S. as derivative family members of the holders of high-skilled work visas that do not create a path to a green card, such as the E visas for investors and TN visas for Mexican and Canadian professionals.
The proposal mirrors a bill introduced in the House in July by Rep. Deborah K. Ross, D-N.C., that also has bipartisan support.
The legislation was offered as Democrats plow forward on efforts to establish a pathway to permanent residency for millions of immigrants, including those brought to the U.S. as children and often referred to as “Dreamers,” through a Senate procedure allowing measures to pass with a filibuster-proof majority.
The House Judiciary Committee advanced its portion of the reconciliation bill Monday night, and Senate Democrats are awaiting a determination by the chamber’s parliamentarian on whether the immigration provisions comply with reconciliation rules.
While immigration provisions in the reconciliation text are largely focused on providing relief for certain categories of undocumented immigrants, like Dreamers and those living with temporary humanitarian protections, the reconciliation bill would also help some “documented Dreamers.”
However, Paul and Padilla’s bill could be more inclusive of the “documented Dreamer” population. The current reconciliation text mandates that immigrants have “continuously” resided in the U.S. since they entered, which could leave out some foreign citizens who briefly lived abroad, such as during a college gap year or study abroad.
The bipartisan bill would require that individuals have an aggregate 10 years under their belt, including four on their parent’s work visa.
Dip Patel, president of advocacy group Improve The Dream and a “documented Dreamer” who has pushed for these protections, said the bill “puts in place a policy that most Americans assume already exists.”
“Over 200,000 Documented Dreamers who had felt hopeless now have hope for being recognized as something we have long felt: Americans,” he said in a statement.