Congress must address the plight of legal immigrant children

Congress must address the plight of legal immigrant children
© Getty Images

This is arguably the most prosperous time in history to be an American. Alternatively, it is a particularly precarious time to be a child of immigrant parents in America, especially if your parents came here legally. That’s right, I said “legally.”

“I wish I were an illegally-arrived child instead of a legal one.” As a stand-alone statement those words are perplexing, but in present context it serves as the mantra of thousands of Indian American children who were brought here legally by their parents on H-1B or other work visas. Those children now face the real threat of self-deportation once they turn 21 years old, because of the end of their H-4 dependent status and a seemingly endless backlog of green card dissemination.

ADVERTISEMENT
Indian Americans refer to this issue as DALCA, or “Deferred Action for Legal Childhood Arrivals.” The caveat to just plain DACA is that the pathway to citizenship applies only to children who were brought here illegally. The conspicuous absence of this status disparity from congressional discussions, and mostly in the media, is a truly sad scenario that could lead to a brain drain in the United States.

 

The DALCA voice is just not loud enough, and it’s time we turned the volume up.

I was lucky enough to have been born in this country in the early 1980s to parents who came here from India in the late 1960s on student visas and subsequently obtained their American citizenship. Compared to Indian immigrants today, my family and I are generationally lucky. The young people who are losing their legal status are no different than my siblings and I were; the real MTV is gone but DALCA kids have grown up on Doritos, PlayStation and Coke, just like we did, and now they could be forced to leave.

Their departure could benefit “Silicon Vancouver” and beyond. Each skilled worker who is forced to leave the United States is a loss for its future as a competitive tech country. Nearly a dozen Indian families in my circle of friends alone have shipped off to Vancouver.

Prior to the new millennium, it took about six months to obtain a green card in the United States. Now the wait can last decades. Many H-1B holders will die before they get a green card. While here, they will live a life of uncertainty and deep anxiety, afraid to go back to India even to attend the funeral of a parent in case they are not allowed to return to the United States even though they have legal status.

House Republicans have set June 25 as a deadline to secure the legal status of so-called Dreamers, at least for a few more years. That is a noble cause that will put the minds of many a young person at ease. However, what this self-imposed legislative deadline doesn’t do is placate any Indian American children who entered this country legally — and that is wrong.

There has been zero debate of the DALCA issue on either the House or Senate floors; among the media, it has been mentioned only in India-based periodicals since it affects Indian Americans more than any other minority. Seventy percent of employment-based visas have been awarded to Indian Americans in the past decade. Congress needs to address this problem and include the DALCA Dreamers in whatever compassionate fix it intends to bestow upon the DACA recipients. We cannot let Indian American talent spill out of our country. Congress also must fix the root cause of the DALCA problem — the decades-long backlog of skilled immigrants from India.

This is an easy fix: adjust the White House policy on DACA to include the word “legal” in its immigration framework. The current framework reads: “Provide legal status for DACA recipients and other DACA-eligible illegal immigrants, adjusting the time-frame to encompass a total population of approximately 1.8 million individuals.”

I commend Sen. Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulConservatives left frustrated as Congress passes big spending bills Senate approves 4B spending bill Some employees' personal data revealed in State Department email breach: report MORE (R-Ky.) for having the courage to call out Congress for its hypocrisy on this issue. I also urge President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump rallies in Nevada amid Supreme Court flurry: 'We're gonna get Brett' Trump: 'Good news' that Obama is campaigning again Trump boosts Heller, hammers 'Wacky Jacky' opponent in Nevada MORE to fix this, for the betterment of the country, so that Indian Americans can continue their socioeconomic contributions and help make this country greater for generations to come.

Vikram Aditya Kumar is CEO of the Automation division of AVG Advanced Technologies, an Iowa- and Illinois-based company that manufactures industrial automation products. He is chairman of the Republican Hindu Coalition, which meets with policymakers to encourage the strengthening of trade and political ties between United States and India.