Obama move helps one undocumented Filipino, not another
Of the four million people expected to benefit from President Obama’s executive action on immigration, roughly 50,000 are from the Philippines.
A Pew Research Center report estimates that there are roughly 200,000 Filipinos living in the US without authorization, nearly a quarter of whom are eligible for relief.
It’s a bold, but complicated political move that would help many Filipinos now living in the shadows in America. But not all.
Take the stories of two women, both from Samar and now living without proper papers in California.
Let’s call one of them Rose. She’s in her thirties and has lived in the US without authorization for a decade. She has a son, who was born in California.
She has job, working as an assistant at a home care facility. She pays taxes and her son goes to a local school. Her family has had a hard time making ends meet. Then in July, tragedy struck: Her husband died suddenly of a heart attack.
The immigration order will not solve all of Rose’s problems. But it gives her a chance to come out of the shadows, an opportunity to rebuild her life with her son without fear of being immediately deported.
That’s not the case for another Filipina. Let’s call her Grace.
She’s in her late forties and is also from Samar. It was in the late 1980s when she made the daring decision to move to California illegally. She was in Mexico as a tourist when she paid someone to help her cross into the US.
From the border, she found her way to the San Francisco Bay Area where, despite her status, she had a successful career as a nanny.
Over the past 25 years, she has cared for children of affluent professionals. Some of them are now successful professionals themselves.
Grace never had children of her own. But she helped pay for the education of the children of relatives back in Samar. She also pays taxes and has led a quiet life.
She did not share the excitement of other Filipinos about the Obama executive action. It won’t change her status in America.
While hailed as a bold move, immigration advocates agree the impact of Obama’s executive action is limited.
“It’s obviously a broken system,” San Francisco immigration attorney Lourdes Tancinco told me. Fixing it has become nearly impossible given the political climate in Washington.
Her own reaction to what Obama did was, “Finally. Why did you have to wait?” But she also acknowledged that “Obama’s hands are tied.”
The Obama executive action may not even be that effective for undocumented Filipinos who are eligible to benefit from the relief it offers.
The reason: fear.
The White House action does not offer longterm guarantees. Tancinco says many undocumented Filipinos are reluctant to take the risk.
This was already evident in the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which offered children living in the US without authorization a chance to stay for a certain period of time.
Many Filipinos are eligible for this program, but not many chose to take advantage of it, Tancinco told me.
“Ayaw talaga nila,” she said. “The parents are saying, ‘Hanggang kelan yan. If there’s a Republican president, mabubura iyan. This is temporary and anything can happen.’” (“They really refused. The parents wondered how long it would be in effect. ‘If there’s a Republican president it will be voided.’”)
“It’s a very valid fear,” Tancinco said.
That’s because immigration historically has been heavily influenced by the economic and political climate in the country.
Many believe Obama issued the order as a way to give Democrats the edge in the 2016 presidential election. Tancinco herself is critical of Obama’s timing.
“Gagawin din pala naman,” she said. “He should have done it in his first or second year.”
Which means fixing the broken system will probably take longer even with an executive action that offers temporary relief to tens of thousands of Filipinos.
“Knowing its temporary, we have to be realistic,” Tancinco said. “Walang kasiguraduhan. There’s no guarantee.”
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