5 US policies that Filipino Americans support

MANILA, Philippines – According to the Migration Policy Institute (MPI), an organization based in Washington, DC, Filipinos are the fourth largest immigrant group in the United States, next to Mexico, India, and China.

The US census from 2010 – its latest – shows that there are 3.4 million Americans who identified themselves as Filipinos.

As of 2011, there were 40.4 million immigrants in the US – 1.8 million of them are Filipino-born. The Philippines’ share in the overall foreign-born US population has grown from 1.1% in 1960 to 4.5% in 2011, according to the US Census Bureau.


At the same time, the US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) reported an increase in the number of undocumented Filipinos.


One in every 6 Filipino immigrants was undocumented, and 2% of all US immigrants were Filipinos. These figures, however, may be higher as some may not be included in official estimates.

Filipino communities are found across the states, hence they and their families back in the Philippines are not only kept in the loop of American politics, they are directly affected by some policies that the government is crafting. 

Here are 5 of the US policies that have the support of Filipino Americans:

 

1. Immigration reform

In June 2013, the US Senate passed the comprehensive immigration bill (S. 744), which seeks to provide undocumented immigrants a “pathway to citizenship,” but the bill has been pending at the House of Representatives since then.

S. 744 or the “Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act” proposes changes in immigration laws. It aims to help undocumented immigrants gain citizenship, as long as they have paid their assessed taxes, do not have criminal records, have passed background checks, and have paid the $1,000 penalty fee.

The bill also addresses the legal problems faced by undocumented immigrants brought to the US as children. 

The Pew Research Center reported that unauthorized immigrants comprised 5.2% of the US workforce in 2010. (READ: Immigrant struggle) Meanwhile, a 2013 survey by Gallup showed that Americans are now more accepting of immigration.

The modified version of S. 744 is HR 15, filed in October 2013. Filipino-Americans are in full support of this bill.

US President Barrack Obama also expressed support for the proposed immigration reform. However, Fil-Ams, alongside millions of other US immigrants, continue to await the government's final decision.

 

2. Benefits for Filipino World War II veterans 

The Filipino Veterans Family Reunification Act is included in S. 744. This portion of the bill seeks to exempt children of Filipino World War II veterans from numerical limitations on immigrant visas. (READ: Filipino WWII veterans)

The amendment was introduced by Hawaii Senator Mazie Hirono.

It seems, however, that many Filipino veterans will have to wait a bit longer before the bill becomes a law. Most of them do not have much time left.

More than 260,000 Filipino soldiers heeded America's call to join the war in 1941. 

Filipino veterans were first naturalized – meaning, granted citizenship – under the Immigration Act of 1990. In 2009, through a stimulus bill signed by Obama, Filipino veterans were to receive monetary compensation, among other benefits.

The World War II Filipino Veterans Equity Compensation (FVEC) fund grants eligible Filipino veterans a lump sum of $15,000 if US citizens, and $9,000 if non-citizens. 

However, many veterans are still empty-handed since they cannot process their applications due to lack of documents. (READ: US vows help for Filipino veterans) 

As of April 2014, the US Department of Veteran Affairs reports that 45,991 applications have been processed; of these, 18,892 claims have been approved.

The number of denied claims, however, is higher at 24,955. More than 4,000 FVEC appeals have been filed; only 10.31% have been granted. More than 1,000 appeals have been denied, while 33 are currently pending.

To address the issue, an FVEC Internal Working Group was formed to review the problems experienced by veterans in filing their claims and appeals.

The last time such comprehensive bill was introduced in US Congress was in 2007. In fact, a Filipino Veterans Equity Act was filed as early as 1993; however, similar proposals have never made it to the President's desk. (READ: CFO report on Filipino veterans)

Later versions of the bill have been pending.

 

3. Temporary Protected Status

In December 2013, the Philippines formally requested the US for a Temporary Protected Status (TPS) in the aftermath of Typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan). It may benefit over 200,000 "out-of-status" Filipinos in the US.

According to DHS, a foreign country is designated under TPS if it experiences conditions that temporarily prevent its nationals who are currently in the US from returning safely to their home country due to:

• Ongoing armed conflict
• Civil war
• Environmental disasters
• Epidemic
• Other extraordinary or temporary conditions

Individuals from a country designated under TPS will be assessed whether they are eligible as beneficiaries. Once approved, TPS beneficiaries over a designated amount of time:

• Cannot be removed from the US
• Can obtain an employment authorization document (EAD)
• Can be granted travel authorization
• Cannot be detained by DHS on the basis of his or her immigration status in the United States

This means that undocumented Fil-Ams covered by TPS will receive a "temporary legal status," allowing them to work in the US and travel abroad.

At present, there are 8 countries under TPS:

In the onslaught of Yolanda, when thousands of lives and millions of pesos were lost, Fil-Am organizations nudged the US government to grant Fil-Ams TPS so they might help their Yolanda-devastated families back home. 

US authorities have yet to evaluate the request.

On April 25, the Pilipino Workers Center (PWC), a Los Angeles-based non-profit organization, held a rally in front of the White House to push for this. It was hoping to convince Obama to grant Filipinos TPS before he leaves for Manila. The President started his Asian tour on Wednesday.

 

4. In-state tuition for undocumented immigrant students

The in-state tuition law allows undocumented immigrant students in public colleges and universities to access financial aid benefits, and to pay the same tuition as their classmates. 

There are currently 16 states in the US implementing this law: California, Colorado, Connecticut, Illinois, Kansas, Maryland, Minnesota, Nebraska, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oklahoma, Oregon, Texas, Utah, and Washington.

Earlier this year, Filipinos celebrated the approval of New Jersey's in-state tuition law, as reported by FilAm, a magazine for Fil-Ams in New York.

All these stemmed from DREAM Act (Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors), which was first introduced in 2001. It proposes to grant citizenship to qualified immigrants who arrived in the US as minors, thus helping them pursue higher education. (READ: Jose Antonio Vargas, undocumented journalist)

DREAM was only actively reintroduced in Congress in 2009. Later versions of the measure also proposed work permits and protection from deportation for the undocumented.

The youth's clamor may have something to do with Obama's 2012 decision to stop the deportation of young "law-abiding" undocumented immigrants. The qualifications are based on the proposed DREAM Act.

At present, the American dream is still out of reach for many immigrants. The DREAM Act remains nothing but a dream, not a law.

No nationwide measure has been passed, but some states have already implemented their own versions of state-level DREAM acts, such as California, Maryland, Illinois, Texas, among others. 

 

 

5. Inclusion of Filipinos in American textbooks

In 2013, Fil-Ams in California commended the signing of AB 123 into law. It demands the state curriculum to cite the contributions of Fil-Ams in California's farm labor movement. (READ: Film omits Filipinos in Cali farm labor movement)

This was authored by Rob Bonta, the first Fil-Am Assembly member.

California also approved AB 199, which encourages schools to include in their social studies curriculum the roles of Filipinos in World War II.

As Obama's visit to the Philippines approaches, most Fil-Ams probably have this question in mind: Will he listen to us? (READ: #DearObama: What would you tell the US president? Rappler.com

Are you a Filipino residing in the US? Or do you have relatives in America? Let us know if you have other policies in mind. Send your thoughts or articles to move.ph@rappler.com or comment below.

For more information about TPS, its conditions, and requirements, please visit the US Citizenship and Immigration Services website. You may also visit TPS4Filipinos for updates.

To learn more about the US immigration reform, you may visit the American Immigration Council’s websiteTo learn more about In-State Tuition for immigrant students, visit the US National Immigration Law Center’s website.