On my first visit to the Philippines, well after my father and uncle died, I met my aunt for the first time.
She had me over for a family meal in her middle class home in the Manila suburbs.
And because I was American, I was naturally served whisky.
That was her view of Americanos.
I looked at my aunt, and had a “there but for fortune” moment. When my father immigrated to the US, it was with a sense of youthful male bravado. He went with his brother, sister stayed home.
What if my father stayed home?
Then I would be a Filipino in the Philippines and have a totally different life.
My father never petitioned for my aunt. Never had the money. And she never felt compelled to leave her home and her family in the Philippines.
At least the option of family reunification was there.
Now as we look at the new Immigration reform bill introduced by the so-called “Gang of 8,” we’ve got a compromise that’s typical of a compromise. You love it as much as you hate it. Do you pass it?
The bill really changes the nature of how Filipinos have traditionally viewed immigration.
Like other Asian Americans, immigration generally has been about the one’s individual betterment, but only as a means to better the entire family. Family unification has always been key.
But that has resulted in long waits for visas, as long as two decades.
Brothers and sisters could be petitioned for. As well as children, all of them.
So in true compromise fashion, the new bill allows for an unlimited number of immediate family members to join an immigrant, eliminating backlogs.
But before rejoicing the new V family visa, here’s what the bill will change.
You won’t be able to petition brothers and sisters. Nor will you be able to petition for adult children over age 30. And if you are LGBT, forget it. There’s nothing in the provision for you.
The family portions are the biggest concerns among Asian Americans. But just those changes, changes the nature of immigration.
The goal used to be more humanistic. The Statue of Liberty’s inscription said it all:
“Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses, yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore, send these, the homeless…”
Forget that. Lady Liberty’s not holding a torch shining a pathway to citizenship. She’s folding her arms and making you prove your worth. That’s modern immigration reform for you.
If the new bill passes, there’s even a merit visa. Citizenship is going to be like applying to college.
The real test of immigration shifts from the accommodation of one’s yearning to be free to your proving your value to America.
What do you bring as an H1B STEM worker, as a temporary or agriculture worker? You’re a good person? We’ve got plenty of those.
Remember the bill was primarily instigated to deal with illegal immigration, an estimated 11-12 million people. So the bill is tough. Ten year, 13, maybe 15 year waits will be normal if security triggers aren’t met. The triggers set the bar at a 90 percent apprehension rate at the border to allow for the provisions of the bill to kick in.
Why so tough? Because no one wants you to confuse any of this with amnesty.
You pay a fine (about $500), all back taxes, have no criminal record or of voting illegally, and then you start the path out of your TNT status and toward what will be known as t “Registered Provisional Immigrant.”
An RPI from the RP? If you pass all the background checks. (Odd that the Senate seems to be for background checks for those here illegally, but not for people who may use guns illegally).
There are some good parts of the bill.
You get a break if you’re a lowly ag worker who qualifies for a new “Blue” card. Or if you were young when you entered the US and qualify under the DREAM Act. The DREAM Act will finally pass and it will extend to older dreamers where previously it was cut off at 29.
Both Dreamers and blue card workers are eligible for green cards in five years.
But the big winners here are the growers who need workers, as many as 400,000 estimated in California alone, and the tech workers who come in with H1B visas. The caps have been lifted and can now be as high as 180,000.
The big losers may still be workers and small businesses who must submit to a faulty process known as E-Verify, a system prone to mistakes and could actually prevent people from working.
If the bill passes, immigration will definitely be different, and if laws were as strict as this proposal 20, 30, 50 years ago, many of us would still be in the Philippines.
There’s still a chance some of the bill could change for the better, especially on the family reunification issues.
But there’s also the sense that with the Boston story developing, those who want to ditch the bill will have more political cover than ever to do so. And so much needed reform in a system may not be achieved.
That’s how dysfunctional politics is in America, and I wonder if it has the effect of making people abroad all the more willing just to stay put.