LOS ANGELES—President Barack Obama drew mixed reactions among Filipino-American immigration advocates on Thursday after he outlined his plan to shield up to 5 million immigrants—including tens of thousands of Filipinos—from deportation.
The National Federation of Filipino American Associations (Naffaa) threw its full support behind Obama’s sweeping immigration reform, saying “his bold decision is a step forward” in fixing a broken immigration system and dealing with the plight of undocumented Filipinos.
The Los Angeles-based Pilipino Workers Center (PWC) called it a “partial victory” for Fil-Am immigration advocates who have been pushing for a path to citizenship for undocumented Filipinos.
“It’s the biggest relief granted since 1986, but it’s not a complete victory,” said PWC director Aquilina Soriano-Versoza, who watched Obama’s televised speech at a gathering of Fil-Am community members at the nonprofit’s LA headquarters.
One of the undocumented Filipinos who attended the event said he was “very disappointed” that he and the majority of undocumented Filipinos “have been left out.”
“I haven’t seen my family in the Philippines for 11 years,” said the 50-year-old health-care worker who requested anonymity.
But many other undocumented Filipinos—up to tens of thousands—will benefit from the long-awaited reform, said immigration lawyer Arnedo Valera, executive director of the Washington-based Migrant Heritage Commission.
Under Obama’s plan, undocumented parents of children born in the United States will be shielded from deportation—potentially benefiting more than 2,000 undocumented Filipinos in the Washington area alone, Valera said.
“[Obama’s] executive action is not a cure-all … but an immediate and practical immigration relief to millions of undocumented immigrants,” Valera said.
LA-based immigration lawyer Paul Mendoza Allen clarified the Obama immigration plan’s limitations.
“It’s not an amnesty and it’s not a path to citizenship,” Allen said. “It’s simply a deferment of possible deportation proceedings. However, it’s a good start for many to come out of the shadows, get a job and provide for their families.”
Allen said the program may eventually become permanent “since the government cannot possibly deport 11 million undocumented immigrants.”
Vargas to benefit
Among those who will benefit from Obama’s reform is Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and immigration activist Jose Antonio Vargas.
Vargas is one of the 270,000 people who would be eligible for relief under the expansion of a 2012 move by Obama to stop deporting people brought illegally to the United States as children by their parents.
“Personally, this executive action means a lot to me: I can have temporary status, I can have a work permit, I can travel outside of the country,” Vargas said in a Facebook post.
“The moment I can travel, I will fly to the Philippines and see my Mama, my sister, my brother and relatives. It’s been 21 years,” he said.
But the fight is not over for Vargas.
“Let’s be clear: President Obama’s executive action is temporary, not permanent; it also leaves out millions of people, like undocumented parents (day laborers, farm workers, civil rights leaders) and many LGBT people I know,” he said. “This action is historic and it’s necessary, but we need to do more.”
The LA-based Justice for Filipino American Veterans (JFAV) released a statement saying it was disappointed that the plan excluded the 25,000 grandchildren of Filipino World War II veterans who were covered in an immigration bill passed by the Senate several months ago.
“It’s very unfortunate that President Obama bowed to the wishes of the conservative Republicans,” JFAV national coordinator Arturo Garcia said.
1M undocumented Pinoys
There are 270,000 undocumented Filipinos in the United States, according to the US Citizenship and Immigration Services, but other estimates range from 500,000 to 1 million.
Naffaa plans to hold educational forums to educate the community on the Obama reform and its impact on undocumented Filipinos.
PWC will conduct an outreach to undocumented Filipinos who will potentially benefit from the Obama plan and offer them low-cost legal assistance. It will also provide no-interest loans under its “Paluwagan” program to cover application fees.
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