Commentary: How a 20-year visa backlog sent our daughter back to India

My wife and I came to the United States nearly 20 years ago from India with our daughter, Himani — legally — in hopes of a better life and an aspiration to succeed and contribute positively to American society.

Unfortunately, due to immigration laws, she was unable to stay in the United States due to massive backlogs. This is a problem that affects thousands of immigrant children.

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She has lived in Williamson County following all the legal processes — but last year she aged out of the system, when she had turned 21 while we were still waiting for her permanent status. Under the current immigration system, a child can only stay on their parents’ visa as a dependent until he or she is an adult. We had been waiting in line for 20 years to get permanent residence but are now stuck in a massive backlog that is extremely disheartening.

In contrast, legal immigrant children to not qualify for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program and the proposed DREAM Act. The fees and paperwork involved in visa extensions — for hiring a lawyer, securing renewals and simply waiting for a green card — are financially draining and very stressful, especially when there is a fear of potentially being denied an extension to stay in the United States.

Being brought up in the United States since she was an infant, our daughter was raised with proper American values. Aside from her own goals and aspirations — such as helping underprivileged children and opening free clinics to assess mental illnesses — she has experienced the importance of actively helping the less fortunate by volunteering at foster care homes, organizing materials at the food bank, collecting food for Caritas, volunteering for Susan G. Komen breast cancer events and more.

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I am proud of the way my daughter has conducted herself and participated in all the above activities; she really experienced what the American way of living is all about. One thing our family understood was that Americans are kind and helpful regardless of their social status or skin color, a direct result of the society that has developed over generations.

This is all she knows and can call her “home.”

Juvenile memories — such as her lemonade stands and attending prom her senior year — are some of the beautiful things she had to leave behind. We still cannot digest the reality of the situation. As a parent, it is bearable to see your child leave home voluntarily for college or their career — but not when they’re forced to leave through the result of unfair laws.

She initially went back to India alone last year with a big smile and positive attitude. Since then, life has been a struggle to live for her: assimilating to a new culture, undergoing chronic illnesses due to her environment in India, and trying to figure out her life in general.

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She says it feels like someone has spontaneously taken everything away, including her identity. On top of that, her college education in the U.S. was abruptly stopped because she was unable to obtain a student visa; there is a law where gaps between a dependent visa and the college semester start date should not exceed 30 days. Unfortunately, she was five days over the limit. She has since applied to another university in India, where she will spend another four years studying.

She hadn’t been able to see us for a year but later opted for a visa to “visit” a nation that is practically her home. Due to the laws, it is difficult for us to even visit her and even our own parents. We haven’t been to India in nearly eight years.

We are hoping our green cards arrive — but even if they do, she will not be able to apply for permanent residency with us, since she is no longer a minor. The law explicitly excludes such children from applying.

We believe no child deserves to be separated from their family regardless of legality — but to be sent out after following all the legal procedures throughout the years is especially unjust. I want to highlight the injustice done to such children due to unfair backlogs. I hope lawmakers will consider such children and allow them to continue staying with their families.

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Punja is a senior software consultant in Round Rock.

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