My name is Padma, I’m 18 years old and I’m a senior in high school. When I was 8 months old, I took a life changing flight from Mumbai, India to the Boston Airport. This was my first flight ever, and it was the beginning of my life in America — the only life I’ve ever known.
Growing up, I always saw myself as every other American. My friends and I played in our backyards together, learned in the same classrooms, and our parents were friends. I grew up speaking English, playing on a local girl’s soccer team, dressing up Barbie dolls, and enjoying fast food.
My favorite activity of all time, though, was visiting an arcade called Putt Putt Fun House in Houston, Texas, with my dad. I loved to rock climb, play laser tag, and play Deal or No Deal at the arcade. In the 2nd grade, I decided to have my 8th birthday party there, and I invited every single person in my class. I relished being with my closest friends in the place that I loved, and had some of my fondest memories with them. I had found my people, after years of being a shy kid.
Another frequent activity of mine was playing house with my friends during recess. Whatever I was — the mother, the child, the secret agent — I imagined my life 20 years from then, living in the US. I thought we were all in the same boat, as Americans.
When I was in middle school, we visited Canada. I thought we were going on a small vacation, until I came to understand that we needed to visit the American Embassy in Ottawa, in order to get our multiple entry visa. I was confused, but they told me we needed to go there in order to come back home in the US. It was then that my parents explained that I’m not like every other American. As an Indian immigrant, I remained on an H-4 visa dependent on my mom’s work permit, even though we applied for permanent residency in 2013. I realized living on an H-4 visa, waiting in an endless line for a Green Card, has major drawbacks. Every three years, I have to file for an extension for our visa, despite the fact that I’ve lived here for 18 years. Each time is anxiety-inducing for me and my family, as we never know if we will be denied and sent back “home.” This was particularly scary for me because I had no memory of India, yet it is technically considered my place of permanent residence.
Throughout high school, I’ve tried to embrace the American culture that I’ve grown up with. I joined my school’s marching band, and at every home football game, I proudly play “The Star Spangled Banner” on my saxophone with the rest of my American friends. I work hard in school, and do what I can to volunteer and give back to my community. However, I learned that I can’t work, get a normal driver’s license, or accept most scholarships for college. Worst of all, I could be deported at age 21 if I don’t switch to another visa and start the immigration process all over. Even if I do switch to a student visa in college, I would be considered an international student, and my entire existence growing up in America wouldn’t matter or be accounted for.
My best friends talk excitedly about gaining work experience on campus, earning money over the summer, and even voting. I can’t do any of these things, despite us having many of the same experiences in America. I recently committed to studying at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, and I look forward to majoring in neuroscience, and becoming a scientific researcher, but I’m scared. I don’t want to leave what I consider to be my nation.
I hope one day I can truly call the only country I’ve ever known “home.”
Improve The Dream is a youth-led advocacy organization bringing awareness for over 200,000 children of long-term visa holders who face self-deportation, despite growing up in the United States with a documented status. If you know someone who is a Documented Dreamer, please share the following link so they can join our advocacy community to stay updated and connect with other Documented Dreamers: ImproveTheDream.org/survey.