LOS ANGELES — A week after President Obama’s executive action to protect millions of immigrants from deportation, one young man who is already benefiting from Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) says he hopes Filipinos will take advantage of the relief when it becomes available, so that they will be able to work under fair labor conditions and be protected from deportation.
Filipinos have the largest undocumented population among Asians, yet a very low percentage has applied for DACA protection, according to the Migration Policy Institute (MPI).
There are approximately 143,000 undocumented Filipinos in California, according to the Asian Americans Advancing Justice Los Angeles (AAAJ-LA). Karin Wang, Vice President of Programs & Communications of AAAJ- LA said, “As with any statistics on undocumented immigrants, these are best estimates from our demographic researchers, but there will be variation in estimates by different researchers because there is no precise way to know how many undocumented Filipinos (or any group) are presently in California or the US.”
Wang said the number makes Filipinos the largest population of undocumented Asian immigrants in the state. Despite this, only 4,000, or 26 percent, of eligible Filipino youths have submitted their applications for DACA.
Anthony Ng, 25, came to the United States as a tourist when he was 12 to join his parents and siblings to find better opportunities in this country. Before qualifying for protection under DACA, Anthony lived a secret life as an “undocumented American” for 13 years, always fearful of being deported.
“I hope the new policy will help increase the current DACA numbers as well as see a lot of Filipino parents who qualify for the new program apply,” says Anthony.
Obama’s new program will expand deferred action to the parents of U.S.-citizen and Legal Permanent Resident children; expand DACA by removing the age cap; and allow spouses and children of green card holders to apply for a waiver so they can get a green card sooner.
Immediately eligible youths
The Philippines is among the top 10 origin countries, with 15,000 immediately eligible for DACA, according to a March 2014 report MPI. Even more will be eligible under the new, expanded DACA since it will no longer have an age cap.
The stigma of being openly undocumented and the fear that it could put their family at risk are some of the reasons why many potential Filipino undocumented youth have been deterred from applying for protection.
But for Anthony, getting DACA has made his family more stable, allowing him to work, contribute to his family’s income and provide freedom from the fear of deportation.
MPI reports there is also a financial deterrent. Applying for DACA requires the financial resources to pay the program’s $465 fee. There are, however, scholarship assistance from groups like the Pilipino Workers’ Center (PWC) and other immigrant advocacy groups that can help.
In a news conference sponsored November 25 by New America Media, Marielena Hincapié, executive director of the National Immigration Law Center, said that DACA recipients can apply for an Advance Parole Document so that they can travel in and out of the U.S. legally. This can be an incentive for those who have been separated from their families for decades.
While Obama’s executive measures are temporary and limited, there are some five million undocumented immigrants who will be eligible to apply and be protected from deportation.
Anthony’s story is one of those.
Anthony’s own parents were industrious small business owners, running a concession store in the busy corridors of Metro Manila. When capital ran out and their business went bankrupt, his parents debated how to raise their children and provide for their future.
The older Ngs only had a high school education and no professional skills to compete in the already overcrowded labor sector. The Philippine economy in the late 1990s was in turmoil, devastated by natural calamities and political strife, and unemployment was at an all-time high.
“If you’re a responsible parent, the only way out from seeing your young driven to such a miserable existence is to get out. That defines the choices for many overseas workers,” says Anthony.
Tossed the dice
His parents decided to toss the dice and immigrate to America in 2000, where they hoped that with hard work the family would fare better than in Manila.
The problem was legal immigrants have permission to work in the U.S. while Anthony’s family did not even have the necessary “papers” to stay beyond what their visitors’ visa allowed them.
Anthony and his siblings came to the States after a year with tourist visas. His parents supported them by working at a local Filipino grocery in Van Nuys, worked 10- to 12-hour days, including Christmas and holidays, and receiving low ”under the table” wages — the only way most undocumented workers can support a family.
Anthony was not fully aware of the consequences and complexities of his parents’ decision. He came to the States when he was 12, went to middle school in Los Angeles and later graduated from Van Nuys High School.
He got a clue that things were not right when he asked his mother for his social security card for a fellowship he was applying for to join his graduating class to see the White House; she responded only with silence, which he at first could not comprehend.
Over time he learned to accept the reality that he and his family are part of the community’s statistic lingo “TNT” (“Tago nang Tago” or loosely, “always hiding” from immigration authorities.) For most of his teenage years, he kept the family secret but maintained a resolve to be a good American.
A fair-complexioned, ”mestizo”- looking youth, Anthony found himself growing up in the busy demographics of the San Fernando Valley in a modest three-bedroom apartment with his older brother, younger sister and parents. It was a tight squeeze; but being familiar with the closeness of Asian families, there were no complaints about living under one roof.
“Boy Meets World” on ABC was his favorite TV show, his ears and eyes glued to it every day so he could learn to enunciate “like an American.” He tried hard to lose his accent as this became a sore point and fodder for his classmates to bully him.
Top of his class
“People treated me differently because of my accent,” Anthony laments. He focused on his studies and graduated at the top of his class. In college, he worked tirelessly on issues that would benefit students like him; he was a mentor and tutor for disadvantaged students, among others.
Then in August 2012, President Obama announced the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, an initiative designed to temporarily suspend the deportation of young people residing unlawfully in the U.S. who were brought to the United States as children, and meet certain education requirements. In 2012 there were 1.2 million immigrant youth sharing Anthony’s predicament.
Before DACA, Anthony wasn’t able to work. It was through a 10-week paid internship under a DREAM summer program at the UCLA Labor Center, that he found his way to the Asian Americans Advancing Justice-Los Angeles as a policy advocate for immigrant rights. He now helps other DACA applicants understand and navigate the legal process and how to provide the necessary documentation.
Anthony became part of the initial 680,000 DACA applicants in the nation. DACA has allowed him to get a Social Security Number, to apply for work and to be free from the fear of deportation.
Anthony says anyone who qualifies for relief should seek it. Today, people can apply for the current DACA program that Anthony is part of. The new expanded DACA program (without an age cap) won’t be available until late January, and the program for parents, spouses and children that Obama announced won’t be up and running until May 2015.
At the news conference, immigrant advocate Hincapié warned that the new programs are not available yet, and people shouldn’t be paying anyone now who promises to get them to the front of the line, or any other offer that sounds too good to be true.
For more information about how to get DACA, contact the Asian Americans Advancing Justice:
Don’t have DACA? Find out how to apply for the first time here:
Is your two-year DACA status about to expire? Renew it here, four months before it expires:
This article was made possible through a New America Media (NAM) Immigration Reporting Fellowship sponsored by the Evelyn & Walter Haas, Jr. Fund.
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