From the outside, my family is the embodiment of the American Dream.
We moved from Mexico to El Paso, Texas when I was nine years-old for my dad’s architecture job and he eventually launched a successful real estate construction company. My siblings and I grew up enjoying a beautiful American childhood playing sports, excelling at school and developing lasting friendships. Today my brother, a CPA, works as a controller for a pharmaceutical research company, I’m a corporate immigration lawyer and my sister consults for a pharmaceutical research company. My mom runs a jewelry business and is currently building her first U.S.-based brick and mortar store.
And yet behind the scenes, we’ve spent decades trapped in the bureaucratic labyrinth of the American immigration system. Sadly, even if you’ve done things the so-called “right way,” the system is broken. This country routinely recruits skilled workers like my dad to help U.S. companies—and then fails to give them a reliable path to permanent residency.
That’s devastating for families. Currently, some 200,000 young immigrants who were raised in America will be forced to self-deport when they turn 21. We call ourselves “documented Dreamers,” because we came here as dependents on our parents’ high-skilled visas but couldn’t secure permanent residency in time. So many families try – often applying for green cards the moment they were eligible to do so. But wait times are exorbitant, and the clock simply runs out. In my family’s case, my parents secured an E-2 treaty investors visa which does not have a direct path to permanent residency but can be renewed indefinitely – I lost my dependent status when I turned 21.
I urge Congress to support the America’s Children Act, which will provide a path to citizenship for documented Dreamers like me. This Act was reintroduced in May and already has robust bipartisan support, because it offers significant benefits for businesses, communities and families. We have exactly the kind of talent our economy needs. More than 99 percent of us enroll in higher education and roughly 87 percent pursue careers related to STEM, according to Improve the Dream.
My family has lived in the U.S. for more than two decades, but the moment I turned 21, my status has been constantly shifting. I went from an international student visa to a one-year work permit, to self deporting myself to France where I studied a year, returning on an international student visa for law school, getting another one-year work permit and finally landing on a TN visa, a nonimmigrant work permit for Mexicans or Canadians that must be renewed every three years. I’ve utilized the TN status as an attorney both here in the US and in Canada.
I’m lucky to be from one of two TN-eligible countries. Even so, this piecemeal status is stressful and nonsensical. I was raised in Texas loving sports and investing deeply in my community. My friends certainly see me as authentically American. They are baffled by the hoops I’ve had to jump through to secure temporary stays. They’ve seen my situation hold me back in the job market; companies who can’t afford the financial and administrative burden of sponsoring an international worker tend to filter out candidates like me. Even as a financially secure professional, I’ve faced additional hurdles as a “foreign national” trying to secure a loan on my first home purchase. My friends shake their heads at the absurdity of it all.
Nonetheless, I still feel cautiously optimistic about the future. My brother was sponsored for a green card by his company and recently became eligible to naturalize. It is through his US citizenship that I was able to file for my parents’ adjustment of status earlier this year. I’m hopeful that I will follow in his footsteps. I’m hoping the same for my sister, who is also on a TN visa and going through the green card process.
Our family traveled to Mexico over the holidays and took a moment to celebrate my brother’s citizenship news. When we gathered at my grandmother’s house, our relatives were happy, but also confused. Many asked: You’ve lived more than 20 years in the U.S. – you weren’t a citizen before?
It’s time to pass the America’s Children Act. This is a common-sense solution which is why last year, Senator John Cornyn committed to helping fix this. I hope Texans can let him know that they back his leadership here. Please also join me in calling on Congressional representative Marc Veasey and Senator Ted Cruz support this bill. Improve the Dream has created a simple and effective template to make it easy to call or submit a letter to your representatives about this urgent matter. We need the America’s Children Act now. It not only protects families – it also protects the American economy.
Ana Victoria Perez is an immigration attorney based in the Dallas Fort Worth metro area. She grew up in El Paso, Texas and is a member of Improve the Dream.