University+of+Iowa+senior+studying+biomedical+engineering+Pareen+Mhatre+%28middle%29+works+on+her+senior+design+project+with+group+members+Katie+Walsh+%28left%29+and+Ellen+O%E2%80%99Connell+%28right%29+in+the+Seamans+Center+on+Friday%2C+April+8%2C+2022.+Mhatre%E2%80%99s+group+is+designing+a+laryngeal+cleft+closing+device.+

Ayrton Breckenridge

University of Iowa senior studying biomedical engineering Pareen Mhatre (middle) works on her senior design project with group members Katie Walsh (left) and Ellen O’Connell (right) in the Seamans Center on Friday, April 8, 2022. Mhatre’s group is designing a laryngeal cleft closing device.

Advocating for documented Dreamers

April 17, 2022

Mhatre aged out of the system in April 2021.

Although she had applied for a student visa 10 months prior in July 2020, Mhatre still had not received a visa by April. While she was no longer eligible to be dependent on her parents’ visa, she had applied for a tourist visa to bridge the gap between the time she aged out and when she received her student visa.

That month, however, she had the opportunity to testify in front of the U.S. Congress as a member of Improve the Dream, a youth-led organization that supports and advocates for young immigrants who have grown up in the U.S. as child dependents of visa holders.

The group’s proposed solution is to “permanently end aging-out and ensure all future action addressing Dreamers allows children who maintained status to qualify if they meet all eligibility criteria, except the requirement to be undocumented,” the group’s website says.

Mhatre joined Improve the Dream in March 2021 after her mom and cousin found the link to join the organization’s slack channel. Mhatre didn’t think Improve the Dream was going to be as big a part of her life, she said, but at the time, she also didn’t realize that there were so many children like her.

Data visualization by Lillian Poulsen/The Daily Iowan

“I filled out this form and the founder contacted me, and he said, ‘Let’s connect, I want to hear your story,’” Mhatre said. “I didn’t realize that there were so many children in this situation. And so that kind of pushed me to help fight for them more.”

Mhatre recalls testifying before Congress as simultaneously “surreal, terrifying, and comforting.”  She said she had a large support system from her family, friends, and immigrant community.

“Never did I think our lawmakers would be open to hearing about our issue, or my story,” she said.

After testifying, Mhatre said her email inbox and social media was flooded with messages from people in her exact situation.

Mhatre received her student visa about two months later, and she attributes her testimony, saying she’s a “lucky case.”

Her fortune inspired her to fight for other documented Dreamers and to have more involvement with Improve the Dream. Currently, she serves as the organization’s communications manager.

“There are more than 250,000 of us across this country, and it shouldn’t be that way. It was definitely a learning experience,” Mhatre said. “But also seeing that there were so many people who couldn’t get citizenship drove me to fight harder for them.”

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