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With or without TPS, there’s hope for undocumented Filipinos in US

  • Avenues for regularization still open for undocumented Filipinos
  • But fear, procrastination, fatalism are obstacles
  • Undocumented must rely on accredited nonprofits and professionals in order to avoid scams

Robert Yabes, Catholic Relief Services of Santa Clara County. ASIA.WIDMI.COM PHOTO

SOUTH SAN FRANCISCO, California – Catholic Charities of Santa Clara County recently briefed the news media on the potential benefits available for undocumented Filipinos, despite delays in Comprehensive Immigration Reform and US approval of a Temporary Protected Status (TPS) designation for the Philippines.

Undocumented Filipinos still have other avenues to try, said Immigration Legal Services Program Director Robert Yabes and his team of Board of Immigration Appeals (IBA)-certified team.

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Yabes decried the low number of Filipinos willing to do something about their being out of status. “In Santa Clara County, 70 to 80 percent of our clients are Latinos. Asians, just 10 to 20 per cent. The rest are from the Middle-East, Africa and other countries.”

“Out of 1.7 million qualified for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival or DACA (signed by President Obama in June 2012 for qualified youth, granting them a two-year work permit and a guarantee that they will not be deported), only 537,000 applied (as of July 2013). Only four percent of these were Asians. Of these, less than one percent or 0.7 were Filipinos. There are about 22,000 eligible Filipinos but only 18 per cent or 4,000 applied.”

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Yabes offered the manana (procrastination) and bahala na (leave it to God) attitudes among Filipinos as the culprits.

But according to San Jose Peace & Justice Center, the $456 cost of application and the $550 fee for assistance puts DACA beyond most young people’s reach. And only a fourth of these could produce the required documents.Error! Hyperlink reference not valid.

Yet, apparently, the fear factor among many Filipinos “who fear being criminalized” is the biggest obstacle. Many fear that the collateral information gathered from the application will be used against their relatives and friends.

Yabes told FilAm Star, “Even people applying for US Citizenship need to disclose their spouse’s immigration status. But the DHS does not go after (those undocumented as revealed in the application) even if they have the same address and contact information as the applicant.”

“Homeland Security’s top priority is to go after people with criminal records or people who have been in the immigration court system and did not follow the judge’s order (like those still in the US despite a voluntary departure order).There are too many undocumented immigrants in the US and it is impossible to go after all of them.”

“Logic dictates, why would the government provide a benefit like DACA, encourage the undocumented to apply and then destroy all of it by arresting relatives of the applicants? It does not make sense.”

The DHS website for DACA confirms that the said information will not be disclosed to US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and US Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) unless there is a matter of national security, fraud or criminal offenses.

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Although Question number 10 (addressing this concern) contains the waiver: “This policy, which may be modified, superseded or rescinded at any time without notice, is not intended to, does not, and may not be relied upon to create any right or benefit, substantive or procedural, enforceable by law by any party in administration, civil or criminal matter.”

Also invited to the media briefing were staff from Catholic Charities’ sister organizations in San Francisco and San Mateo who were mostly Latino. And here the complex issue of immigration reform reared its complex head, with different ethnic groups differing in their needs and reactions. The Latinos have been struggling with it for a while and have learned to work the system and practically shook the Filipinos from their paralyzing fear.

One stood up to point out that although TPS for El Salvador was extended for some other reason in 2001, “nothing happened to the people who stopped applying (for TPS). It won’t be good politics for the US to deny these benefits to Filipinos. Anyway, it’s better to have something than nothing. Even if it’s just the peace of mind of having a social security number and a driver license.”

BIA-accredited Representative Juan Gil Garcia from Santa Clara County chimed in, “DHS usually prioritizes who is a high risk for removal or deportation. The court would send the case to ICE because they are shorthanded. It is possible that deportation might happen. But so long as the petition is based on humanitarian reasons, there are other possibilities.”

“I’ve never seen a positive outcome from fear-based decisions. Those people who’ve been afraid all these years have been doing so needlessly.”

They said that those who took advantage of TPS have “bought houses, raised their children and put them through school.”

Garcia added, “Once TPS is granted but extension does not happen (after about two years), ICE will not go to their homes. If somebody has acquired deportation notice, maybe. But each case is unique. There is always judicial process. Worst case scenario, (if deportation occurs), you can ask for voluntary deportation within 120 days. Then there are other possibilities.”

Yabes said, “If TPS is granted to the Philippines, it will be the first time that the US will grant it to an Asian country. (Current TPS designated countries include: El Salvador, Haiti, Honduras, Nicaragua, Somalia and more recently, Sudan, South Sudan and Syria.) When Indonesia was struck by a tsunami, there was no TPS. In my experience, you don’t reject any benefit because it leads to permanency.”

Also from Santa Clara County, BIA-accredited Representative Roela Vazquez presented “some things good that may come out of bad things:” the T Visa (granted to victims of human trafficking such as the Filipino teachers in El Paso, Texas and Baltimore) who were preyed upon by unscrupulous recruiters, the U Visa (granted to victims of crimes like torture, rape, domestic violence, assault, prostitution, being held hostage, abduction, slave trade, kidnapping, etc.), the self-petitioning Violence Against Women Act or VAWA (often invoked for abused spouses of US citizens) and the Special Immigrant Juvenile Status or SIJ (provided for alien juvenile in state juvenile court systems who were abused, abandoned or neglected.

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TAGS: Catholic Charities, Comprehensive Immigration Reform, Immigration, TPS, Undocumented
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