They Grew Up Legally in the U.S., but Can’t Stay After They Turn 21

The family’s hopes of staying together in the United States ended in December, when Deva’s daughter turned 21. Having exhausted appeals for an extension and unable to apply for a different visa, the daughter moved to Canada days later.

The effects on the family were far-reaching. A week before her daughter was set to leave, Deva said, her son, now 17, tried to hurt himself, alarming his sister. She postponed her departure by a week while the family sought counseling for him.

Her son said during counseling that he had struggled with his mental health for months while watching his family navigate their legal status, Deva said. Her daughter, who enrolled in a master’s program in Canada, is less than an hour’s drive from her friends and family, but cannot enter the United States while she waits for a tourist visa.

At a Senate hearing in March, Senator Richard J. Durbin, Democrat of Illinois and the chairman of the Judiciary Committee, and Senator John Cornyn of Texas, the top Republican on the panel’s immigration subcommittee, vowed to work on legislation to help people who had grown up in the United States without a clear path to citizenship.

In emotional testimony at the hearing, Athulya Rajakumar, 23, spoke of the toll of growing up in Seattle as a dependent of her single mother, who had a temporary work visa. She described how she and her brother struggled with depression and how her family’s status as temporary visa holders hindered him from receiving the treatment he needed. He later took his own life.

“We didn’t know how badly it was going to affect us,” Ms. Rajakumar, who lives in Texas on a work visa, said in an interview.

Muzaffar Chishti, the director of the Migration Policy Institute at the N.Y.U. School of Law, described the issue as one of many in a system that has not been truly updated since the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952, which established the pathways for legal immigration that are still in place.

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