By Marivir R. Montebon
New York City — When the conversation is on immigration, it is always emotional, hopeful and brave.
A little over a month ago, media colleagues Cristina DC Pastor (of Fil.Am.net), Jen Furer (of TV show Makilala), and I casually thought of relaunching our books, Biting the Big Apple, Out of Status, and Scratch the News. The issue on immigration continues to rage in mainstream media, and I guess, we took it upon ourselves to tell our stories again, to be part of a more no non-sense, deep and truthful conversation of a complex yet overly simplified issue.
September 12, Friday, came fast for ‘Tea Party and Immigration’. At 6 o’clock in the evening, we had guests trickling in at the Pan de Sal Patisserie on 2nd Avenue, mostly rushing from work.
We told our stories over tea or coffee and some mini pan de sal sandwiches of chicken adobo, spicy sardines, egg, and salmon. Our conversations just got deeper and deeper.
Jen Furer (Out of Status) spoke emotionally on how her parents and brothers were deported simultaneously in California and New Jersey in 2005. Her parents came to the US in 1984 on tourist visas and which they later converted to investors. Their family business prospered, and when they wanted to find ways to continue their ways to legalize their stay. That was when the lawyers begun giving advice like political asylum.
After living in the US for 20 years, Jen’s family was deported, as a result of ‘wrong information’ and ill advice by lawyers. Her deep regret was not having to know the correct route to take.
How do we protect ourselves from lawyers who put us in situations like these?
The audience, mostly made up of teachers and lawyers in the Fil-Am community, immediately raised the necessity to come up with measures on how to run after lawyers who give false hopes to immigrants intentionally or unintentionally just so to earn from them.
Atty. Arvin Amatorio gamely gave out the red flags to the audience.
“We paid heavily for such wrong routes, and our family ended up being broken. My brother, who was here since he was 13, was detained in New Jersey for a month. He was treated like a criminal. He was tied while being taken to prison,” Jen said tearfully.
Her father, deported to the Philippines in November 2005, passed away early this year, making Jen nostalgic, bringing back questions of what could she have done better for him and her mother. She was the only child who was not deported by virtue of a marriage to an American citizen. Jen petitioned her parents which took forever.
Family-based petitions, which is the core program of the immigration in the US, takes at least 15 years to be fully processed. Hence, America has a broken immigration system which “ages” the immigrants before they are being fully taken in as permanent residents.
This is hugely disadvantageous for families and for America. And it doesn’t require deep analysis, for instance, that when parents are finally petitioned by their children into permanent residency or citizenship, they are old and less productive. In fact, they need more health care, hence higher government expenditure. Had the petition process been made shorter, more able bodied, tax paying citizens would be absorbed into American society, thus making for a vibrant economy.
I believe that shortening the waiting period for family-based petition is a major reform that must be undertaken. There is also a need to close lose ends and tie some knots in the employment-based petition in order for employers to be enticed to petition professional and semi-skilled workers needed for their business. The details would be endless.
Clearly, sealing the borders should not be made a requisite to a new discussion on immigration reform. It is high time to discuss it now, with the growing 11 million undocumented aliens at hand. A broken system could have created that huge number, for how can 11 million people choose to be in an undocumented, uncomfortable status?
Protecting the borders remains a police and military duty, and should not be lamely made an excuse to not discuss immigration “until it is completely sealed”, as Republicans have posited.
My journey to the American society through political asylum was providential. It is to me a speck of miracle in the vastness and complexity of diaspora. The US government has rarely granted petitions based on political persecutions for more than 15 years since I got mine in 2008.
As Consuelo Almonte, a leader of a senior citizens group, opines, it must be your “due diligence” that your lawyer has worked on your case. Indeed, I regularly followed up my case with my lawyer, and encouraged everyone else I knew to always keep track of the progress of their cases and not merely wait for updates. It is a personal responsibility.
Through the help of the legal staff, I did my research on political asylum cases. I went through all reading materials that reveal the tumultuous conditions of the Philippines after the politically-motivated murder of my husband in June 2007.
I also put out the news items that reported the murder of my husband and the subsequent news releases after his death.
Mario Auxilio was a human rights activist since the time of the dictator Pres. Marcos until he was felled by a militiaman’s bullet in his hometown in Bohol. He ran for public office but lost and embroiled himself into heated local politics during the presidency of Pres. Gloria Arroyo.
Up to this day, his death has been denied justice.
With my daughter in this new world, I learned to live the philosophy of bloom where you are planted. Life hasn’t been easy being a single mom and raising a teenage child in New York. There were unkind people. But great friends and amazing strangers who helped us through mattered more.
And although life has been hard during these recession years in the US, if you come from the Philippines, there is no hardship you cannot handle.
Our conversation ensued into the book of Cristina DC Pastor, which highlights the lives of successful Filipinos in the US. Scratch the News profiles such individuals as Judge Nina Elgo (Connecticut’s first Asian-American judge), journalist Michelle Malkin, and other Filipinos who are in the forefront of news for their bravery and heroism.
“The badge model minority seems to apply to our people. It couldn’t be helped. Our vast number will find a way to push us to the forefront of news,” writes Cristina in her overview.
Yet there are thousands of Filipino immigrants who chose to work silently and remain in the shadows because they are “out of status”.
Human Trafficking and Women’s Abuse
A comprehensive immigration policy will have to address this complex reality of immigration. Wide scale human trafficking of teachers, for instance, is a phenomenon in America which is being addressed by the acquisition of T visas.
This requires a lot of bravery on the part of the trafficked persons and a whole system of legal and social support. Slowly there are victims who are coming out to tell their stories.
Since majority of Philippine immigrants in the US are on fiancee visa, business woman Carol Tanjutco mentioned about the need to educate spouses on VAWA (Violence against Women Act), a federal law which grants self-petition powers for women so they can live away from their abusive spouses. Passed in 1994 by President Clinton, VAWA provides this protection and enabling power to women while they are still awaiting for their spousal petition for citizenship but are being abused.
“Many immigrant women are being abused and killed. And it is just horrifying. We need to educate the women on VAWA,” she emphasized. The tea party ended with everybody feeling enlightened by the conversation.
Grace G. Baldisseri, a New Jersey-based journalist said in her Facebook shout out, “I didn’t sleep until I finished reading all your books. They are great books. I suggest you have this included in the reference materials of the Dept. of Education and Culture in the Philippines. Imagine, we not only have a good market but you are saving lives and these will be very helpful for those who want to come to the US.”
And another inspiring shout-out from Marietta Geraldino, “Thanks to you, three brave souls, for sharing your personal pains and successes on immigration, journalism, and the perspectives of ‘living the America dream. It was an enlightening, interactive and very informative.”
Community leader and teacher Lumen Castaneda said she would support more enlightening forums on immigration such as the high tea party. We have to keep this going, she said.
Gregory Morris, professor on film and journalism at Hunter College, said “it was so powerful. Very powerful. I will write about it.” (Photos by Lumen Castaneda and Jen Furer)