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I came here legally when I was 2. Immigration backlogs are keeping me from the American dream

This month, I’m submitting my undergraduate application to the honors college at Arizona State University. That’s where I hope to study political science and eventually become a Constitutional lawyer. But instead of dreaming about my future, I couldn’t be more stressed out. In a few short years, I’ll be forced to leave Phoenix, where I’ve lived legally since the age of two.

The problem is the exasperating green card backlog my family has been in since 2013. Even though my dad, who works in the tech industry on a temporary worker visa, applied for our family to become permanent residents nearly a decade ago, the wait is up to 150 years for high-skilled Indians like him. And that’s a big problem for me. As my dad’s dependent, I’m only legal here until I turn 21. At that point, I “age out” of the system and will have to self-deport to a country where I don’t even speak the language.

About five million people are stuck in this decades-long line. While we wait, our parents are prevented from changing jobs, starting businesses or otherwise putting down roots here. Immigrants from populous countries, like India or China, have it the worst because of limits to the number of visas that can be issued annually per country. More than 100,000 of their children, known as “Documented Dreamers,” are estimated to lose their status here over the next two decades.

You can imagine my frustration when people ask me, “Why don’t you have your green card yet? What are you doing wrong?” The answer is nothing. The system is broken.

Imagine growing up here nearly your entire life, going through the Arizona school system and thinking you were just as American as your friends, only to discover some immigration technicality could get you kicked out. This policy doesn’t even make good economic sense, when we contribute billions in fiscal benefits.

Arizona taxpayers have also invested a lot of money in our educations all these years. To make us leave is an inconceivable waste of money and brain drain. I’m committed to giving back to my country — the United State of America, not India — by safeguarding our democratic values as a constitutional lawyer. How do I do that from a foreign country?

For families like mine, the situation can feel hopeless, and I’ve struggled with my share of depression and anxiety. I don’t have the right to work, and I’ve had to apply to college as an international student. This means I don’t have the option of paying in-state tuition at an Arizona university. And I’m not eligible for most scholarships or federal financial aid. I’m applying for other scholarships, but they won’t make a big dent in the estimated $55,000 it costs to attend ASU annually as a foreigner.

My future depends on Congress fixing the green card backlog. In the meantime, Arizona Sens. Kyrsten Sinema and Mark Kelly can help alleviate the problem by passing the Build Back Better Act that includes a provision to redistribute 400,000 unused green cards to applicants stuck in the backlog. Congress should also support America’s CHILDREN Act, which would allow immigrant children who’ve lived here legally for a decade and graduated from an American university to become eligible for residency.

Thanks to our donors and sponsors for their support of local independent reporting. Join Renee Downing, Katharine Peterson, and Mike Coxon and contribute today!

I’m asking Congress to protect me, my family and my fellow Dreamers, and I’m glad the nation is finally hearing our stories. We simply want the security to contribute to the country we love so much — as proud and patriotic Americans.

This report was first published by the Arizona Mirror.


Ayaan Siddiqui is a senior at BASIS Peoria charter school.

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Jerod MacDonald-Evoy/Arizona Mirror

An analysis from the New Partnership for New Americans estimates that by the end of 2020 Arizona will have gained over 49,000 new eligible voters who are immigrants in the four years since the last presidential election.