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Over 250,000 Young People Are at Risk of Deportation When They Turn 21

A lesser-known group of young people who grew up in the United States with immigration status—typically the children of noncitizens who entered the U.S. on temporary work visas—is increasingly at risk of deportation.

They are known as Documented Dreamers, and when these young adults turn 21, they “age out” of their previous lawful status, which was tied to their parents’ visas. They are then required to seek and obtain immigration status on their own or to depart the country. If they fail to depart, they run the risk of being subjected to immigration enforcement and potential deportation.

If a parent can adjust to Lawful Permanent Resident (LPR) status, also known as a green card, before their children turn 21, the children are eligible to obtain permanent residency through the same process. But many temporary workers are not eligible to adjust their status. And others are trapped in years-long green card backlogs, like many immigrant workers from India and China who must wait for years to adjust status due to per-country caps. One study found that some Indian nationals would have to wait up to 89 years to receive a green card.

In April 2020, there were an estimated 253,293 children waiting to obtain a green card through their parents’ employment-based immigrant visa petitions. It is estimated that over 100,000 of them will age out before their families can adjust.

Many undocumented Dreamers have been eligible for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) status. But one of DACA’s requirements is that the individual must have “had no lawful status on June 15, 2012,” leaving most Documented Dreamers ineligible.

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