Undocumented Pinoys step out of the shadows to tell their stories
DALY CITY, California–Twenty-six grueling years away from the family. That’s how long Malou, an undocumented Filipina, has suffered while hiding in the shadows of the community in America, doing odd jobs on and off as a caregiver, nanny or house help.
“DREAMer Boy” Jose “JB” Librojo, who up to do this day remains an “out-of-status” immigrant, echoes Malou’s sentiments and experiences in an interview with INQUIRER.net on Tuesday.
“There’s the emotional challenge and the mental challenge,” says Librojo whose parents came to the U.S. for asylum in 1995, when he was just 15 years old.
Malou and Librojo are just two of the thousands of Filipinos who left the Philippines who were forced to emigrate from the Philippines (to all parts of the world) to provide for themselves and their families or escape to political instability, extreme poverty or lack of opportunity/
Status in Limbo
Now 33, Librojo must again face Homeland Security’s Immigration and Customs Enforcement on May 18 when his extension of stay for removal/deportation proceedings expires. He expects his lawyer, Atty. Arnedo Valera of the Migrant Heritage Commission to file an extension of stay on his behalf.
Immigration authorities allowed him to stay in 2011 after his asylum case was re-opened three times: one, for immigration appeal; second, in the Ninth Circuit Court; and third, before the U.S. Supreme Court. All appeals, however, were denied.
“A month before my priority date for visa became current they denied the case, ” he says. He was supposed to be deported on November 12, 2011 for overstaying.
In case he gets deported, “there’s going to be a culture shock for me, a culture change, ” Librojo, who is now married, says. He is working two jobs to be able to pay for the house bought by his parents, who voluntarily went back to the Philippines in 2006.
He has been regularly paying taxes as tries to be a person of good moral character. But he regrets a couple of things: “I can’t travel and see my relatives. I have to look around while I drive because if I get pulled over, I don’t want to go to court in which the issue might be used against me. ”
Librojo has a biology degree. He is eligible for the DREAM Act if it passes in Congress. The Act allows select undocumented immigrants who went to school in the U.S. a pathway to legalization.
“The Dream Act will give a chance to people like me,” he says. If you came here under the age of 16 or you have finished high school or college or served in the (U.S.) military, and you have no criminal records or felonies and misdemeanors– you have a chance. People living in the shadows can come out without fear. ”
A victim of a love-turned-sour, “Tita” Malou, as friends call her, was working in a restaurant in Pampanga when, at the age of 21, she met Ronald, who was giving computer lessons in a local school in 1987.
They became lovers, and Richard planned to petition Malou for marriage. When she came in San Mateo, California on a fiancee visa during the same year, “the first thing Ronald said was that he decided he will not marry me, and he will send me back home before the 90-day period lapse.” The 90-day period is the time allowed for the petitioner to marry the would-be spouse.
Now 49, Malou tell Inquirer.net: “I didn’t know what to do. I had to save face, and I thought of how shall I tell my family if they found out that the marriage won’t happen. “I was young, and like other people, I also wanted to see and experience the American dream–we usually call–‘ the other side of the world.'”
She met Douglas, with whom Malou unburdened her situation. They became friends at the start, and eventually Douglas offered marriage. They got married on February 7, 1997. While living as husband and wife, Douglas filed his petition to legitimize her stay in the U.S.
“But after more than five lawyers, all of whom told me to go back to the Philippines before Douglas could petition me, I gave up (hope),” Malou explains. “They all said that I cannot come back here anymore, which I didn’t understand. ”
Malou and Douglas got divorced in 2011, and she decided to work. “I embraced the pain when my aunt, who took care of me when I was 13, died and I could not even see her,” she sobs. “For 26 years, I didn’t even hug my brothers and sisters who are now aging like me. ”
She does not want to go home: “I was thinking of the shame I will have to face, and I use my courage to face all these difficulties to extend help to my family instead. ”
While hoping for better days ahead, Malou has a message for undocumented immigrants: “It doesn’t mean that if you migrated you are a criminal.”
Librojo and Malou were at a “Talakayan” with dozens of undocumented Filipinos, held at the Hillside Clubhouse in Daly City by immigration advocates led by National Alliance for Philippine Concerns (Nafcon), Migrante NorCal, Bayan USA, the Filipino Community Center and Sanlahi.
Congress is poised to hear the bipartisan comprehensive immigration reform bill on Thursday. Jun Cruz, Nafcon public information officer, says, “It is wrong for anyone, including conservatives to label pathways for undocumented immigrants amnesty. It was not amnesty when slaves in America gained their freedom is not amnesty for undocumented immigrants to gain legal status. In both cases it is simply the right thing to do because dignity and justice is not just for those who the law says is free or legal, it is for all of humanity.”
Conservatives in Congress, citing a much-criticized Heritage Foundation report, object that the government could spend $6.3 trillion once the immigration reform bill is passed.
“The cost analysis is based on racist stereotypes of our communities,” objects Cruz, “It is pure ignorance to assume we are uneducated and unable to contribute to this country at high level when in fact it is undeniable that the immigrant community plays a major role in moving the advancement of American society.”
Advocates reiterated their demands for the protection of workers, legalization for all family re-unification and the overhaul of guest worker programs. They also called for a “fix” to backlogs in the “broken immigration’ system.”