FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. (KNWA/FOX24) — Families all over the world are drawn to Northwest Arkansas to work for the several large corporations headquartered here. The process for these families to become U.S. citizens isn’t easy, especially for those who age out.
“This is my home,” said Aneesh Komanduri. “I’ve lived here for so long.”
Komanduri has only known Northwest Arkansas as his home.
“I still remember my childhood, you know, walking down to Bentonville square, eating ice cream with my family, hiking the Ozarks,” he said.
He said his family moved from India to Bentonville in 2007 on a work visa, and a few years later, his family started the process to get their green cards.
“My dad applied for the green card or permanent residency in 2011 for my whole family, including me,” he said. “Due to the massive backlogs in the green card process and in the legal immigration system, it took more than 10 years for my family to receive the green cards.”
He said his parents and little brother got their green cards last year, but he didn’t receive his.
“By that point, I had turned 21 already,” he said. “There’s this arbitrary policy right now currently in the immigration system where if you don’t get your green card by the time you’re 21, you’re effectively kicked out of line.”
That means it could take another decade for Komanduri to get his green card, or he faces having to go back to India on his own.
“It’s heartbreaking, honestly, because I’ll have to leave my family,” he said. “You have to maybe self-deport back to a country you barely remember. That’s just really emotional for me and my family.”
There is some hope on the horizon for the thousands of Documented Dreamers like him in the National Defense Authorization Act making its way through Congress.
Dip Patel is the founder of Improve the Dream, an organization that advocates for Documented Dreamers.
“Our provision was included as an amendment, and what that would do is it will protect children who grew up here legally, have had a legal status, and it allows them to keep their place in line and not be kicked out of the country when they turn 21,” he said.
Patel said this is a must-pass bill that the government passes each year. According to the United States Senate Committee on Armed Services, the NDAA authorizes the funding levels and provides authority for the U.S. military and other critical defense priorities.
The Documented Dreamer amendment has bipartisan support. It was proposed by Democrat Rep. Deborah K. Ross from North Carolina and Republican Rep. Mariannette Miller-Meeks from Iowa. All four of Arkansas’ representatives voted to pass the NDAA out of the House last month.
Arkansas District 3 Representative Steve Womack said he’s in support of the amendment as well.
“We need to figure out a way to accommodate the people who want to come here, work here, be productive here, and want to contribute to the American society the way a lot of a lot of immigrants would desire,” he said. “The problem is right now, the system just doesn’t work for them.”
Patel said this age-out rule has negative effects on communities and their economies.
“Just as an example, last year, there was a Florida nursing graduate, who had just graduated and was facing self deportation after having been here for two decades legally,” he said. “She had to end up leaving, so then her parents closed their business, which they were employing American citizens, and went back to Europe, even though they had been here almost two decades with legal status.”
Komanduri is currently working towards his doctorate in Computer Science at the University of Arkansas, with the goal of working in the artificial intelligence field. He said he and his family are very tight-knit, and his student visa is what’s keeping him here in Arkansas close to them.
“So if I graduate, I basically have roughly three years to secure an H-1b work visa, which is on a lottery, so a company or an employer would have to sponsor me for that,” he said. “That is my only option, really, the other would be to leave.”
He hopes the amendment and the NDAA going through Congress will help him stay here so he can continue to live out his dreams.
“We want to contribute to America’s success, and we just want to you be given the opportunity to just realize our full potential here in this country,” he said.
The NDAA has now moved on to the Senate. The Senate has until the end of its current session, which could be mid-October, to pass it. However, there’s a chance the Senate will choose not to take it up right now as it’s so close to the midterm election.