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In-depth: Why Documented Dreamers have no path to citizenship

Summer Rusher
Posted at 11:41 AM, Jan 27, 2022

LAKELAND, Fla. — Chances are, you have probably heard of Dreamers before. They are people who were brought to this country as children, undocumented, and without legal immigration status.

But, you may not have heard of documented dreamers. They were brought here as children too, legally, but at age 21 they lose their legal status and are required to leave the United States.

“So, my parents brought me over when I was about a year and a half,” said Summer Rusher.

Rusher was born in England but was brought to the United States when her dad started a rental management company in Englewood.

“I went through elementary school, middle school, high school,” said Rusher.

She even received a scholarship to attend Southeastern University in Lakeland where she excelled in soccer.

“Which was amazing. Every second of it was really awesome,” said Rusher.

Although it seemed like Rusher was living the American dream, in 2020, she was forced to self-deport in the middle of a global pandemic.

“So, I got on a plane back to England in hopes that the embassies would open and resume their normal work so that I could then apply for my F1 Visa which is a student visa,” said Rusher.

Summer is called a “Documented Dreamer,” living in the United States without citizenship and facing deportation. Many of them have spent most of their lives here, entering the country, on average, at five years old.

Due to the fact that they legally immigrated with their parents, they are not covered by Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, which would shield them from deportation. Instead, because they were under their parent’s visa; at age 21 they are no longer legal residents and subject to deportation.

“I think most people think that if you’ve been here with some sort of legal status for a certain period of time, you can just apply for citizenship, but that just isn’t the case,” said Dip Patel, who runs an organization called “Improve The Dream.”

Patel is also a Documented Dreamer. He created the organization so that other people going through this problem could come together to share advice and raise awareness about the plight of the estimated 200,000 Documented Dreamers.

"We have a large community of documented dreamers and parents coming together, supporting each other and advocating for this cause,” said Patel.

The organization has been very instrumental in pushing for the America’s Children Act which is currently in the U.S. House of Representatives. It would be a pathway to permanent residency for people who immigrated legally under their parents’ visa.

“After spending most of their lives here, they end up having to leave or be deported,” said Democratic lawmaker, Darren Soto.

Soto represents Florida’s 9th district and is one of the co-sponsors of the America’s Children Act. Soto said, if this bill were to become law, it would grandfather current Documented Dreamers into this status of a pathway to permanent residency.

“The America’s Children Act allows for a pathway to citizenship if they’ve lived here for 10 years or more and graduated from college,” said Rep. Soto.

To see what legal options are available to people who immigrate with their children, ABC Action News' Anthony Hill turned to immigration attorney Indera DeMine with DeMine Immigration Law Firm.

“There isn’t a legal pathway for children that age out. The system requires these children to seek their own pathway. So, maybe their own investor visa. Their own work visa. You want to start having that conversation and exploring their options a little bit earlier. Maybe when they turn 18. You know, so, that you’re not racing against the clock,” said DeMine.

As for Rusher, she was in England for about six weeks before receiving her student visa and starting the semester late.

So, there was just a lot that I missed and that I had to make up and that was difficult in itself, but also the stress of not even knowing if I was going to be able to come back,” said Rusher.

Now, Rusher is a 5th-grade teacher at Grace Lutheran School in Winter Haven, “and I absolutely love my job,” she said.

However, the visa she’s currently under expires in June. She is applying for an H-1B Visa, which is an employment-based visa that would allow her to continue her life here. The problem is, of the more than 200,000 people who apply each year, only about 85,000 applications are approved.

Rusher will find out if her visa application was approved by April 1.

“So, my future will be decided by then,” said Rusher.

Rep. Soto believes the America’s Children Act will have no issue passing the House. In fact, he told me he expects it will pass before the end of this year, but its fate in the Senate is uncertain. ABC Action News reached out to both Florida U.S. Senators Marco Rubio and Rick Scott to see if this is a bill they could get behind and ultimately vote for, but neither responded.