When my wife and I moved from India to Phoenix in 2008 with our two young daughters, we loved discovering American holidays.
One of my favorites is Father’s Day: Every year, my girls make me cards or T-shirts that say “Best Dad in the World.” Then we go to In-N-Out Burger for grilled cheese sandwiches followed by sundaes at Cold Stone Creamery.
Yet as my daughters grow older – one is studying neuroscience at the University of Arizona and the other is headed to 10th grade – the holiday feels bittersweet.
Although my family came to the United States legally, our cases have been stuck in the country’s immigration system for so long that when my 19-year-old turns 21, she’ll “age out” of her legal status and lose her place in the green card line. She’ll then be forced to leave America for a country she left when she was 6.
Our 14-year-old daughter could face the same fate.
We did everything immigration lawyers said to do
My wife and I could never have anticipated that reaching for the American Dream would one day threaten to break up our family – all because of incomprehensible bureaucratic delays. We did everything our immigration lawyers told us to do. We worked hard at our jobs as software engineers, bought a home and waited the required six years to apply for permanent residency.
After we submitted applications for ourselves and our daughters, we were the told that the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services office was experiencing lengthy processing delays. Still, we could expect to receive our green cards within four years.
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Nine years later, nothing has changed. And that has serious consequences for our family. That’s why I’m joining the chorus of voices asking Arizona’s congressional delegation to show some leadership: clear the green card backlog and rewrite policy so that young adults who have grown up here legally aren’t forced to leave when they turn 21.
Currently, more than 5 million immigrants are waiting for permanent residency; more than 100,000 children are estimated to lose their legal status over the next two decades, and nearly 200,000 Indian employer-sponsored immigrants could die before they get their green cards.
That’s because the system, which limits immigrants from any single country to 7% of the green card pie, effectively punishes those of us from populous nations. For the greatest country in the world, this inefficiency is inexcusable. It’s time to create a functional system that meets the needs of both immigrants and frustrated U.S. employers.
My daughters worry. I can’t change jobs
The psychological and human costs of this bureaucratic problem are enormous: My daughters live with chronic anxiety about their futures. My eldest spent 12 years in the Phoenix public school system, but when she applied to college, she was considered an “international student” and wasn’t eligible for federal financial aid or in-state tuition. Fortunately, she received a scholarship for international students, but I can’t imagine the stress this puts on other families.
Since I’m here on an employer-sponsored visa, I’m not allowed to change jobs or start a business. I feel stuck personally and professionally, especially as I watch my peers take advantage of new opportunities to grow and advance. But returning to India is not an option for us.
After 13 years here, we feel American and dream of becoming citizens. We are eager to participate in the democratic process, both nationally and here in Arizona.
My family left India because we wanted to give our children the best opportunities in life.
Father’s Day is a celebration of how far we’ve come as a family and our dreams for the future that should include family dinners, graduations, weddings and hopefully grandchildren someday.
It shouldn’t be a reminder that my precious daughters could be forced to leave in a few short years and break my heart.
Vivek Soni is a vice president at an insurance brokerage company in Phoenix. Reach him at [email protected].