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‘We hear you,’ US Homeland Security officials tell Fil-Ams

/ 07:14 AM August 15, 2014

Exchange of views: Officials of the Department of Homeland Security led by Assistant Secretary for International Affairs Alan Bersin exchange views with leaders of the Filipino-American Community during a dialogue on the request of the Philippines to be placed under Temporary Protected Status at the Romulo Hall of the Philippine Embassy in Washington, D.C. on Wednesday. PHILIPPINE EMBASSY PHOTO/ELMER G. CATO

WASHINGTON, DC – Federal officials are seriously studying the proposal to place the Phililppines under Temporary Protected Status (TPS), the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) assured Filipino-American community leaders at a meeting on August 13 at the Philippine Embassy.

In a dialogue at the Embassy’s Romulo Hall arranged by Ambassador Jose L. Cuisia, Jr., Homeland Security Assistant Secretary for International Affairs Alan Bersin told Filipino-American community leaders the DHS is still in the process of evaluating Manila’s request to place the Philippines under TPS in the wake of the massive devastation wreaked by Typhoon Haiyan last year.

If granted, TPS would allow undocumented Filipinos as well as those holding a temporary visa to work and live legally for a finite period of time in the United States. An estimated 300,000 Filipino immigrants with no legal status would benefit from TPS.

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“This is a matter that is under consideration by Secretary Jeh Johnson. There are no specific deadlines, but this does require the kind of outreach, time and consideration that it is being given,” Assistant Secretary Bersin told the Embassy’s Radyo Tambuli after the meeting.

“I know my colleagues in the government understand the urgency of the situation and the necessity for due deliberation,” said Bersin, also the Department’s chief diplomatic officer, when asked if a decision on the Philippine request was forthcoming.

“We are delighted and appreciative that Ambassador Cuisia convened the Filipino-American community so that their views could be well heard and taken into account,” Bersin said.

Another DHS official who attended the meeting, Director Leon Rodriguez of the US Citizenship and Immigration Service, also said the views expressed by the Filipino-American community leaders would be helpful in their decision on the Philippine request for TPS.

Cuisia said the dialogue allowed Filipino-American community leaders and DHS to have a very useful exchange of views.

“It was reassuring to know that the US Government will give due consideration to the views of the Filipino-American Community when it makes its decision on our request for TPS,” Cuisia added.

Filipino-American leaders who met Bersin, Rodriguez and other DHS officials thanked them for the dialogue.

“We are really very grateful that they took the time to be with us to listen to the humanitarian, legal, economic and geopolitical arguments for the granting of TPS,” said Loida Nicolas-Lewis, chair of the US Pinoys for Good Governance. “We are hoping that something will come out of our exchange of views.”

Also present in the dialogue were officials of the National Federation of Filipino American Associations (NAFFAA) led by J.T. Mallonga (New York), John Melegrito and Bing Branigin (Washington, DC); Cornelio Natividad and Evelyn Natividad  (Illinois); Rodel Rodis, president of the US Pinoys for Good Governance (San Francisco); Eric Lachica (Maryland); Father Patrick Longalong, vice president of the National Association of Filipino Priests (New York); Grace Valera Jaramillo and Jessie Gatchalian, co-executive directors of the Migrant Heritage Commission (Virginia); Aquilina Versoza, executive director of the Pilipino Workers Center of Southern California (Los Angeles). They all underscored the urgent need for granting the TPS request.

During the discussions, Mallonga, the newly elected chair of NAFFAA, said a TPS designation for the Philippines would allow the Haiyan-affected areas to immediately bounce back from the devastation.

“The more than 200,000 Filipinos who would benefit from TPS will help the Philippines go a long way,” said Mallonga. He cited a World Bank study that showed that dollar remittances to countries earlier placed under TPS quadrupled and even exceeded the amount of overseas development assistance they have been receiving.

In his presentation, Rodis said approval of the TPS request would help the Philippines strengthen its capacity to respond to similar disasters in the future.

“The Philippines is situated in the Pacific Ring of Fire and should expect more Haiyans to come down its way. It is just a question of which part of the Philippines will be struck next and when,” said Rodis.

For her part, Versoza said the ongoing recovery effort in the affected areas is putting a strain on the resources of the Philippines. She cited data from the US Agency for International Development that said that more than two million survivors are still without durable shelter.

“Every day is a struggle in the typhoon-devastated areas in the Philippines. TPS is one way to help us rebuild and recover,” Versoza said. ###

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TAGS: Ambassador Jose L. Cuisia Jr., Assistant Secretary for International Affairs Alan Bersin, Department of Homeland Security, Philippine Embassy, Radyo Tambuli, temporary protected status (TPS), Typhoon Haiyan, undocumented Filipino immigrants, US immigration
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