Chicago Fil Ams Discuss Immigration Reform

by Joseph G. Lariosa


CHICAGO – Securing the border should not be contingent upon the passage of the proposed Comprehensive Immigration Reform (CIR) by the United States Senate Gang of Eight that will legalize the 11 million undocumented immigrants, according to a grassroots recommendation by The Alliance of Filipinos for Immigrant Rights and Empowerment (AFIRE) and the Bride of Christ Church’s “Usap-Usapan” (Town Hall Meeting) held Feb. 24 at Chicago’s far northwest side.

Workshop participants also asked President Barack Obama to refine his proposed definition of “backlog” by legalizing quickly those waiting in line by letting them pay low fees and exempting them from paying fines since most of them have no jobs because they have no work permits as proposed by the nationwide Dignity Campaign for Real Immigration Reform ( that includes AFIRE.

Dozens of Filipino community members led by AFIRE’s Jerry B. Clarito, Executive Director, and Angela “Ging” Mascarenas, AFIRE Board President, and Senior Pastor Bert C. Villaluz of Bride of Christ Church, had dissected the proposals of the Gang of Eight composed of Senators Richard Durbin (D-IL), Robert Menendez [D-NJ], Chuck Schumer [D-N.Y.], Michael Bennet [D-Colo.], Marco Rubio [R-FL], Jeff Flake [R-ARIZ.], John McCain [R-ARIZ.] and Lindsey Graham [R-S.C.], who came up with “four basic immigration legislative pillars” on Jan. 28 before President Obama came up with his own in the event that the Gang of Eight proposal loses steam.

Philippine Consul General Leo M. Herrera-Lim of the Midwest in brief remarks talked of his meeting with Sen. Mark Kirk (R-IL) and urge AFIRE to get Mr. Kirk involved in the  comprehensive immigration reform debate. Others in attendance were Indian American Pal George of American Carpets and Ms. Frances E. Roehm of Skokie Public Library ( and Ella Basilio, R.N., AFIRE volunteer and employee of Veterans Affairs Chicago Regional Hospital.

Remy Cabagnot, widow of a Filipino World War II veteran, suggested that the U.S. Congress should pass or incorporate the proposal of Sen. Mazie K. Hirono [D-HI] in the comprehensive immigration reform bill by processing the Green Cards of her children under current visas and exempted them from numerical limitations following the death of her husband.

In one of his proposals, Obama said the undocumented must come forward and register, submit to biometric data, pass criminal background and national security checks and pay fees and penalties to be eligible for provisional legal status.

The Gang of Eight added to Obama’s proposal that undocumented must settle debts and pay back taxes to earn probationary legal status to live and work in the U.S. People with probationary status will be required to go back in line of prospective immigrants, pass background check, pay taxes, learn English and civics, prove history of work in the U.S. and be currently employed to apply for LPR (legal permanent residency). Under the Obama plan, where applicable, Green Card applicants will have to register for Selective Service.

+Obama and the Gang of Eight agree to legalize minors “who did not knowingly violate immigration law” and agricultural workers. Mr. Obama makes these minors eligible to a path for citizenship by going to college or are eligible for expedited citizenship if they serve in the Armed Forces for two years.

Like the Obama plan, the Gang of Eight said individuals must wait until the existing legal immigration backlogs are cleared before getting in line to apply for lawful permanent residency (green card) and ultimately citizenship, a plan that met strong opposition among workshop participants.

AFIRE volunteer Connie Triggiano said to clear the backlogs, the government should employ steps to sped up the legalization processes. Among them is to allow those waiting for the permanent visas outside the U.S. for five years or less to come to the U.S. and get their Green Cards. She said unmarried children regardless of age should be considered immediate family members and part of a nuclear family.

For the Obama plan, people with provisional legal status will not be eligible for welfare or federal benefits, including subsidies or tax credits under the new health care law. This is, however, being opposed by the Dignity Campaign, which is suggesting that these benefits should be available to those newly legalized after one year.

While the plan of the Gang of Eight calls for “immediate deportation for those who committed serious crimes,” participants argued that the definition of “serious crimes” should be broken down.

Under the Obama plan, applicants, whose provisional status has been revoked or denied, can seek administrative and judicial review, a complete departure from current immigration laws that mean outright deportation.

Participants were largely in agreement with the proposals of the Dignity Campaign for the removal of language requirement for legalization applicants, which is more appropriate for U.S. citizen applicants; graduates of any U.S. high school should receive expedited processing and cannot be denied financial aid because of immigration status; applicants should receive permanent residence status, not an extended temporary status; move the registry date every year so that in the future anyone in the country for five years can apply for legal status; brief absence from the U.S. or previous deportations will not make applicants ineligible; and applicants will receive immediate work authorizations; and applicants will be eligible for citizenship five years after receiving residency status.

AFIRE volunteer Sally Velasco-Richmond suggested that the government should protect both the employer and undocumented employee.

AFIRE volunteer Myrla Baldonado, one of the workshop leaders, also proposed that existing petition should not die with the death of the petitioner. This means that the beneficiary may be allowed to get a substitute petitioner, who is not a relative. She added new visa category should be created for caregivers.

Since the Obama has deported 1.5-million undocumented under his watch, there should be a moratorium on deportation; a petitioner may file a petition even he is below the 100% poverty level; and there should be repeal of the three- and 10-year bars. When someone overstays his visa for 180 days but less than one year, he is barred from re-entry to the U.S. for three years. But if someone overstays his visa in the U.S. for more than a year, he is barred for re-entry in the U.S. for ten years, according to AFIRE legal staff member, Atty. Roy John Basa, Jr.



Photo 1
Participants to the Usap-Usapan (Town Hall Meeting) listen to the speakers that broke down various proposals by President Barack Obama and the U.S. Senate Gang of Eight as they offered their own inputs for the comprehensive immigration reform bill that is expected to be finalized by the Senate committee by the end of March or early April. Photo by Joseph G. Lariosa

Photo 2
Filipino American World War II widow Remy Cabagnot appeals to U.S. Congress and President Barack Obama to pass a comprehensive immigration reform bill that would allow her children to be granted legal permanent residencies after her husband died last year. Photo by Joseph G. Lariosa

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