Deportation of Rey Galleon could have been avoided
By Marivir R. Montebon
New York City – Filipino American Jose Antonio Vargas, fresh from his conferment with an honorary Doctorate degree at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, encouraged Filipinos here to engage in a substantive kind of citizenship: engaging and participatory, and to “show up” in events that concern their human rights. He keynoted the “Know Your Rights Forum” which was organized by lawyers groups and civic organizations in order to address the need for education at the time of intensified enforcement of deportations.
Vargas, a Pulitzer winning journalist, is an undocumented immigrant who could face deportation proceedings anytime. He told his Filipino audience at the St. Francis of Assisi Migrant Center in mid-Manhattan that his priority is no longer to live in fear, but to educate people of their rights.
Vargas cited the unfortunate circumstance of Rey Galleon, the first Filipino to have been deported under Pres. Trump in southern California would not have happened if he knew his rights and asserted these. “He allowed ICE inside his house. He did not know his rights. The lack of information and education is dangerous. He ended up buying this own ticket to the Philippines.”
Vargas organized a civic and cultural movement called Define American which advocates for active citizenship and castigates legal attachments to whole persons, immigrants who contribute to the well-being of society. “Legality is constructed by people in power. But what is legal may not be just. We are here to help people by educating them,” he said in his keynote speech.
Asked whether the present administration is scarier for him than the previous one under Pres. Obama, Vargas said that “it is more chaotic now and confusing, hence scarier. The president uses dehumanizing language, such as calling undocumented immigrants criminals. That language could lead to action. I am prepared with whatever happens to me.”
Vargas noted that although deportations at the time of Obama were at its peak, the younger ones were spared through the DACA and DAPA. Under the Trump administration, there is no protection in the system. (Update: As of press time, Pres. Trump has issued an order to keep the DACA)
The Rights Forum was a concerted effort of the Filipino American Lawyers Association, the Asian American Legal Defense Fund, the Korean American Lawyers Group New York, UNIPRO, NQAPIA, the Migrant Center at St. Francis of Assisi Church, and the Define American Foundation that took place on June 16, 2017.
The Rights Forum covered stop and search rights at the airport, streets, home, and during detention and removal proceedings. Lawyer Eve Guillergan gave tips on the proper conduct on and rights at the border, airport, and checkpoints. Lawyer Rodney Villazor explained the rights on the streets and at home while Lawyer Amanda Bernardo tacked the rights at detention and removal proceedings.
Villazor said the everyone in the US is guaranteed with constitutional rights, including those who are undocumented. He said it is important to know you have rights in order to be able to act accordingly.
Vargas, for his part, admitted that during the assumption of Pres. Trump into office, he was seriously considering to move to Toronto, especially when his lawyers told him not to travel outside California.
“That was a bit disorienting. I travel all over the US for my rights advocacy. So I thought I would call the Prime Minister of Canada. I entertained it for a week. Then Sen. Nancy Pelosi invited me to speak at the Congress of California, right at the time when Pres. Trump was addressing the US Congress. I accepted the invitation. Sen. Pelosi helped me decide to stay in the US.”
Cast out the “Hiya”
Vargas said it is important to engage in rights conversations both in public and private spheres. He underscored to break down the barrier of “hiya” (shame) which is prevalent in Filipinos and their families. He said he was glad that his family right now is beginning to see the wisdom of his advocacy when in the beginning, they were all against him opening up to the public about his undocumented status.
Fr. Julian Jagudilla, director for the Migrant Center at the Church of St. Francis of Assisi, encouraged Filipinos to step up. He said that most people who come to his church seeking help are Latinos. “Are we in denial or simply indifferent? Where are the Filipinos?” he queried in his welcome remarks.
There is an estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants all over the US, and about 800,000 are Filipinos. Filipinos comprise the second largest community of Asian immigrants, next to the Chinese.