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“Documented Dreamers” in Iowa hoping for easier path to citizenship

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Pareen Mhatre and her parents.

IOWA CITY, Iowa (KWWL) - Much of 21-year-old Pareen Mhatre's life has been about finding a way to stay in the U.S.

"People ask me, 'Why don't you just apply for citizenship?' And every time I think to myself, 'As if it was that easy.,'" she said.

Mhatre and her parents moved to the U.S. from India in 2000 when she was four months old. Her mom was getting a masters degree from the University of Iowa and her dad was applying to Iowa before eventually getting his undergrad and masters degree.

At the time, her mom was on an F-1 student visa, and her dad was on an F-2 visa for spouses of F-1 holders. After graduating, both had to apply for H-1b work visas. They were approved but also applied for a green card in 2012, hoping for a more permanent status.

Nine years later, they haven't heard back on the green card.

"It's hard to come to a country with documentation and not have the same rights as other people," Mhatre said.

Mhatre graduated from West High in 2018 and is now majoring in biomedical engineering at Iowa. When she turned 21 this year, she "aged-out" of her parent's green card application and had to apply for her own student visa.

"It didn't take me long to realize I also have to go through these things," she said.

She got hers fulfilled in 11 months and feels quite lucky. However, once she graduates, she will have to look for a job and apply for the same work visas her parents.

Eleven members of congress are trying to make the process easier on these "Documented Dreamers".

"It's part of the system that we need to address. This is a small part of fixing a broken (immigration) system," Rep. Mariannette Miller-Meeks said, R-IA 02.

Miller-Meeks and eight other lawmakers debuted the "America's CHILDREN Act" on July 1. It would remove these "age-out" limits on green card applications and provide a clear path to residency for people like Mhatre.

"It's urgent. There are young adults having to leave our country because this issue has not been addressed," Miller-Meeks said.

The bill will help children of parents on work visas who have lived in the U.S. for at least ten years (including four as a dependent), and have graduated from an institution of higher education.

The bill was referred to the House Committee on the Judiciary on July 1 and is still awaiting action there. Rep. Ashley Hinson, R-IA 01, became the 11th cosponsor on July 16.

Mhatre testified virtually before congress this spring, talking about the need for a bill like this. While she knows the bill has a ways to go, she's happy the issue is getting attention.

"It is such a liberating experience to be able to talk about your story like that and receive support. And I really hope that some change will be done," Mhatre said.

These Documented Dreamers are not part of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals or DACA program started by President Obama.

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Travis Breese

Reporter, Iowa City

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