Legal immigrants and their attorneys say they are facing unprecedented challenges to come to and stay in the United States under the Trump administration – and with attention focused on DACA, they’re wondering: What about us?
President Donald Trump’s bid to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, a policy that protected young undocumented immigrants who came to the US as children from deportation, has dominated headlines on immigration.
But immigrants who came to the US legally and the attorneys who work with them say they are facing a new world with this administration, where virtually every form of legal immigration to the US is under siege.
The concerns are wide-ranging: Legal immigrants who came to the US as children but waited upwards of a decade before their family could get a green card – only to be too old to count as immediate family. High-skilled immigrants who have had their visas continually renewed as they wait for a green card who now face new scrutiny. Employers who are worried about being able to hire the temporary seasonal workers they have in the past. Immigrants who feel the administration considers all foreigners a threat.
Lilah Rosenblum, an immigration attorney who represents both immigrants and companies looking to hire them, said she has a client who works as a doctor in a medically underserved area of the country – a textbook case of the kind of immigrants the US has traditionally wanted – who can’t sleep for fear of losing his status.
“He’s up all night, multiple times in the night, emailing me because he’s nervous,” Rosenblum said. “As lawyers, we can’t even make our clients feel OK, because we don’t have certainty, we don’t know, because never before has this been seen. This is crazy, what’s happening.”
Aging out of visas
Janvi Mehta came to the US at age 15 in 2007 with her father, who had a high-skilled immigration visa. She completed high school and pharmacy school in the US, but by the time her family cleared the green card backlog waiting time, she was too old to be considered a child under the law, and thus was not given any way to stay in the US outside of an employer sponsoring her.
“I think just like the DACA recipients, I, too, deserve a path to citizenship,” Mehta told CNN in an email about her story. “I qualify in terms of all the requirements except for the fact that I have not broken any immigration laws and I came into this country as a legal minor. I have heartfelt sympathy for the illegal minors but I am on the same boat. I just want the country that I have learnt to call home to accept me.”
A few groups have organized around immigrants in Mehta’s shoes, calling themselves “legal Dreamers” in an effort to piggyback off of language used to describe DACA participants. They have been heavily organized on social media, inundating reporters and influencers on multiple platforms. They are also advocating for a bill that would remove the country-by-country limits on green cards that has made the backlog especially long for certain Asian and South Asian immigrants.
“In general, one of the frustrations that many of the legal immigrants have in the United States is they feel like their contributions, their hard work is not being acknowledged and they’re being viewed in rhetoric that’s either a security risk or an economic drain on the society, when there’s many people who can say, ‘Wait a minute, I’m a doctor, I’m a researcher, I’m a developer, why would I be lumped in with security risks and economic drains?’” said Leon Fresco, a former Obama administration Justice Department official who now represents one of the groups advocating on the backlog issue.
‘This is crazy … across the board’
Immigration attorneys are also describing what they say is an unprec