Obama immigration order explained at Consulate ‘Talakayan’
SAN FRANCISCO — Not wasting time getting the word out to the Filipino community, the Philippine Consulate here on December 1 held one of its monthly morning “Talakayan” right after Thanksgiving weekend on a topic that made 4.9 million undocumented youths and parents thankful.
President Obama’s executive order giving deportation relief to undocumented families was the focus of the “Talakayan,” a town-hall discussion that provides a platform for dialogue with dozens of Filipinos who are waiting to have their passports or documents processed.
Deputy Consul General Jaime Ascalon, together with Consul Reginald Bernabe explained that the Immigration “Talakayan” aimed to make Filipinos aware of the benefits as well as pitfalls and scams that might abound due to the ardent desire of many to legitimatize their stay in the US.
Invited panelists were immigration lawyers Rodel Rodis, co- founder and officer of US Pinoys for Good Governance and the National Federation of Filipino American Associations (NaFAA) ; Atty. Lourdes Tancinco, lawyer and host of the TV show “Pusong Pinoy sa America” at ABS-CBN, and Melba Espartero-Cawit, lawyer and president of the Philippine Integrated Bar Association of California Chapter.
The panelists advised those hoping to apply for the extended benefits of DAPA and DACA based on President Obama’s executive action meant to “crack down on illegal immigration at the border, prioritize deporting felons not families, and require certain undocumented immigrants to pass a criminal background check and pay taxes in order to temporarily stay in the U.S. without fear of deportation.”
First, there are dates to remember when applying for these benefits. Atty. Esparto-Cawit emphasized that the changes do not kick in until March 18, 2015 for DACA (Deferred Action on Childhood Arrivals) and May 19, 2015 for DAPA (Deferred Action on Parental Accountability).
Atty. Tancinco advised that it would be good for applicants to start reading on the changes and to prepare their documents. Atty, Rodis counseled that undocumented or aliens with no papers study the other actions, like the provisional waivers of unlawful presence, which include the spouses and sons and daughters of lawful permanent residents and the sons and daughters of US citizens.
Tancinco added that the president does have the power to stop deportation in certain cases. He has prosecutorial discretion as president. He cannot enact the law, but he can tweak immigration law so families can stay together.
Rodis emphasized that President Obama’s series of executive actions do not have the strength of law since it did not pass congress and that these executive orders are co-terminus with the term of the president.
However, he said it is not a total setback since some executive orders like that of President Abraham Lincoln’s emancipation of slaves became so popular in succeeding years that Congress passed it into law, now known as the 13th Amendment, banning slavery in the United States forever.
Similarly, President Lyndon B. Johnson’s Medicare Insurance, which President Reagan threatened to end when he took office, had gained traction and became too popular to disregard. Medicare was voted into law.
Obama had hoped that Congress would pass a comprehensive immigration reform law months ago. While the bill passed in the Senate 67-23, The Republican dominated House junked it and did not even want to discuss it.
The failure and the looming immigration problem on the horizon forced Obama’s hand, leading to the executive order on immigration. Conservatives say that this was illegal.
Espartero-Cawit scored detractors who accused President Obama of having abused his power by issuing the immigration executive actions. She enumerated former U.S. presidents who have availed of the executive order. There were Presidents Woodrow Wilson, Franklin Roosevelt, Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton, George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush to name a few.
The US Constitution grants the president the ability to make an executive order to “manage the operations within the federal government itself. Executive orders have the full force of law.” Unless Congress passes an immigration reform law, Obama’s Immigration executive order will end on December 31, 2016.
Everything must be correct
“Be ready with records. Identification must be in place. Claim the correct name you claim to be or present documentation that proves identity,” Tancinco said.
What is important, she said, is not to panic but instead research six months before the initiatives will take effect. Gather all documents. If applicants have been in the US for five years and if they have no social security number, they can work with accountants, the consulate, even the Immigration Department to get their documentation straighten up.
Espartero-Cawit reiterated that the extended DAPA and DACA are temporary relief. The comprehensive immigration law, had it passed congress, would have provided a better path to citizenship.
She mentioned that the earlier version of DACA was not popular among Filipinos because they were afraid of being exposed to immigration scrutiny and deportation. However, the lawyers advised that the benefits are worth the try. The order offers work permit, driver license and permission to travel abroad.
The U.S .immigration Department will only start accepting applications for DACA on February 18, 2015 and DAPA, May 19, 2015.
Espartero-Cawit said the public can avail of free services from members of the Philippine Integrated Bar of California Chapter whose lawyers come to the consulate every 1st and 3rd Fridays of the month.
She advised the community to “not listen to people who entice you to pay fees now. Be aware of immigration scams – try to get your money’s worth. Be cautious. “
Someone in the audience expressed disappointment that the new initiative seems unfair for those who waited many years like for her, who waited 12 years; that the EO is rewarding those who were “illegal” instead. She asked if there was a law that would shorten the waiting for those legally petitioned compared with those benefitting from the Executive Order.
Rodis explained that, in fact, the immigration initiative would in effect shorten the waiting period since there will only be one visa issued for families instead of individual visas, thus opening more visas available for others.
There are other provisions in the executive order that need to be understood that relatives may benefit from, the lawyers said. Like H1V spouses are not supposed to work but now there is a proposal to allow them. Student visa extension from one year to two years will be given to those taking science, technology, engineering and math.
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