US Immigration reform needed but compromise bill a tough sell for all


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.

Get Inquirer updates while on the go, add us on these apps:

Inquirer Viber

Disclaimer: The comments uploaded on this site do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of management and owner of We reserve the right to exclude comments that we deem to be inconsistent with our editorial standards.

  • riza888

    Maybe the US should consider admitting immigrants who can succeed in the US, rather than deadbeats. And the problem isn’t just illegal immigration. I would rather have doctors and engineers sneaking into the US than legally arriving ditch-diggers. There should be ZERO immigrants committing crimes. There should be ZERO immigrants accepting government assistance. There should be ZERO immigrants demanding that Americans speak their language.

    Americans have no choice about native (US) – born losers. But Americans ought to be able to do something about the people the US chose to bring in the USA.

  • tra6Gpeche

    This is too complicated, Emil. However, old Filipinos from 50 years old and above should not consider going to America and live there permanently, perhaps for visiting only! It will be impossible for them to adjust to US weather and the American way of life. They will definitely become sickly and weaker because of homesickness and, much worst, being alone. Those young Filipinos with decent jobs, income and with housemaid or housemaids (katulong) should stay put. They already have comfortable life here. Because of their housemaids, they are free from all household chores like cleaning the toilet, washing dishes, laundry, cooking, cleaning the whole house, cleaning the car, if one owns a car, buying groceries and free from taking care of their small children. In America, they, including the husband, will be their own housmaids. Especially for the Filipino husbands, it will be a shock for them to live in America. Why? There is no “tambay,” no “inuman,” almost no womanizing and almost no “barkada.” Furthermore, there is alimony if someone divorces his wife (if they have children). I dont’t see anything beneficial for them to leave the Philippines and live in America. So, this immigration thing should not be of too much concern for most Filipinos in the Philippines.

    • foreignerph

      You nailed it exactly ;-)

      Middle class male Filipinos become irreversibly lazy once they tasted the fruits of the slavery by grossly underpaid family drivers/gardeners and nannies. I have been shocked many times seeing a nanny cutting grass blades with scissors one by one because her wage is less than the cost of a lawn mower. Real men mow their own lawn, drive their own cars, do their own laundry, vacuum clean their houses themselves and love to spend as much time possible educating their kids. Kids raised by uneducated simple nannies become uneducated simpletons themselves.

      The culture shock by emigrating would be just too much for overweight settled middle class Filipino males. The right time to emigrate is right after college, when there is still hope and the tummies are still flat ;-)

      • tra6Gpeche

        Very true! Take care and have a good day, kabayan!

    • Ncarreonjr

      Me and my wife come from middle class families and came back to the US in our early thirties as a newly married couple (I was here for a few years in my early twenties). We already had good jobs and a house then in the Phil. but we were concerned of our future and the future of our unborn children. It is true it is a big adjustment and very hard physically and emotionally for both of us who are just starting all over in a new country. Now after almost 25 years and me retired, I consider washing our cars, cleaning the house,washing the dishes with the dishwasher etc. part of my exercise routine. There are socializations if you want but more limited in scope bec. most people are busy and need to work to pay their bills. Now I can really relax since I retired early from a local government job and enjoying the fruits of our labor. Our kids are in very expensive private colleges with very bright futures ahead of them and they dont have to deal with the US embassy for a lousy visa like I did before. We secured our future and our children’s future by taking chances, hard work and lot of common sense. I am not sure new comers have the same chances we did bec. times are different now. As any person who have lived a considerable time outside of their native country, there is no such thing as a perfect place to live in. Everything is a compromise. It all depends on your priorities. If your priorities are having a maid, womanizing, inuman and barkada, just stay put in the Phil. but if your priority is your family and its future, you have better chances here.

      • tra6Gpeche

        This is a great story of yours (no sarcasm). I would guess that you came to America in the mid ’60s or early ’70s with what they called professional visa or 3rd preference then. I am sure that many like you made the right decision, where in America, children have better future than in the Philippines. And now, as you said, as a retired Americans (I supposed you are now an American citizen.), enjoying the retiree life, with good pensions and other savings you might have. However, times are very different now in the US. Also, in the Philippines, middle class Filipinos now are accustomed to, at least, have 2 or 3 housemaids or katulong. I am not really sure if they would be happy to change their lifestyle and do everything in the US that they have never done in the Philippines. As for the future of their children or children to be, that is another story, kabayan! Nobody can see their children’s future if they decide to either stay in the Philippines or leave for the US. As you said, everything is a compromise. Take care and have a good day!



To subscribe to the Philippine Daily Inquirer newspaper in the Philippines, call +63 2 896-6000 for Metro Manila and Metro Cebu or email your subscription request here.

Factual errors? Contact the Philippine Daily Inquirer's day desk. Believe this article violates journalistic ethics? Contact the Inquirer's Reader's Advocate. Or write The Readers' Advocate:

c/o Philippine Daily Inquirer Chino Roces Avenue corner Yague and Mascardo Streets, Makati City,Metro Manila, Philippines Or fax nos. +63 2 8974793 to 94


editors' picks




latest videos