CHICAGO (jFAXX) – Filipino American leaders on Monday (Dec. 16) hailed the Philippine government’s effort to support a “national movement” placing undocumented Filipinos in the United States “under the Temporary Protected Status (TPS) program due to the onslaught of natural disasters, the most recent being Typhoon Haiyan/Yolanda, which as of this writing, has claimed 6,000 lives.”
Atty. Arnedo Valera, the pioneering advocate for TPS, and Ed Navarra, chair of the National Federation of Filipino American Associations (NaFFAA), said, “this benefit will alleviate their fears of deportation to a devastated country and allow them to work and stay in the US temporarily. With this authorization, Filipino nationals can continue providing material and financial support to the homeland, especially at a time when they are in dire need of help.”
In separate letters to President Barack Obama, Secretary Rand Beers of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and Secretary John Kerry of the U.S. Department of State, Valera, Executive Director of Fairfax, Virginia-based Migrant Heritage Commission (MHC), said the Commission believes “that such a designation would advance the humanitarian principles of our Nation and promote goodwill between the American People and the People of a long-term ally, while benefitting the economic interests of the United States.”
J.T. Mallonga, NaFFAA National Vice Chair and President of the Filipino American Legal and Defense Fund (FALDEF), explains that there are precedents where the U.S. administration acted on similar requests. “Following the devastating earthquake which struck Haiti two years ago, the U.S designated TPS to Haitian nationals, allowing them to continue living and working in the country for 18 months,” Mallonga said. “The same should be done to Filipinos, and it must be done soon.” Other nationals from countries devastated by natural disasters, such as Honduras, Sudan and El Salvador, have also been granted TPS before.
NOT NECESSARILY LEAD TO PERMANENT RESIDENCY
Mallonga further explains that “while TPS provides temporary legal status for Filipinos already in the US, it will not necessarily lead to permanent residency. Also, TPS does not provide humanitarian aid or legal status for people not already here. TPS may only be granted for 18 months. Beneficiaries will be granted a temporary employment authorization document as proof of authorized stay in the US for that period. Qualified TPS applicants will then be allowed to remain in the US with a work permit. This is only meant to be a temporary immigration benefit.”
Since the MHC initiated the call to designate the Philippines under the TPS program last month, this cause has gained the support of various organizations, advocates, and leaders, including a bipartisan group of Senators and Members of the House of Representatives, Valera said in a letter co-signed by his fellow MHC Executive Directors Grace Valera-Jaramillo and Jesse Gatchalian.
Some of these organizations include the American Immigration Lawyers Association, the New York Bar Council, the U.S. Conference of Bishops, the Philippine Nurses Association of America, the Justice for Filipino Veterans, the Alliance Philippines, the People’s Core, and more than 200 other organizations.
More than 20 Senators led by Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) and more than 30 Members of the House of Representatives have called on “your Administration to make the designation.
“Most recently, President Benigno Aquino, III, through the Philippine Ambassador to the U.S. Jose L. Cuisia, Jr. made a formal request for TPS designation of the Philippines addressed to Acting Secretary of Homeland Security Rand Beers.”
With members of Congress weighing in on the issue, Navarra has conveyed his thanks to a bi-partisan group of U.S. Senators and U.S. Representatives who have endorsed the call for TPS.
STRONG SUPPORT ENCOURAGING
“Although congressional approval is not required, their strong message of support is very encouraging,” Navarra said. “We hope more members of Congress will do the same.”
In a Nov. 19 letter signed by 20 US Senators, the signatories assert that, “Providing TPS is critical to humanitarian relief efforts as it both protects individuals who would be endangered by returning to their country of origin and it allows the home country more time to recover before accepting returnees.” Among those signing the letter are Senators Harry Reid, John McCain, Robert Menendez, Marco Rubio, Mazie K. Hirono, Richard Durbin, Orrin Hatch, Barbara Boxer, Tim Kaine, and Patrick Leahy.
On the House side, 30 US Representatives called on DHS to “exercise its authority to designate the Philippines” for TPS, considering the “daunting rescue and restoration efforts” facing the country. The signatories include Representatives Edward Royce, Zoe Lofgren, Trent Franks. Robert Scott, Xavier Becerra, Judy Chu, Peter King, Colleen Hanabusa, Tammy Duckworth, and Michael Honda.
“We also appreciate what the Obama administration has done to direct much-needed food and relief aid to the affected areas,” Navarra adds. “USAID and the Dept. of Defense have deployed manpower and resources in a timely manner, in addition to providing millions of dollars in emergency assistance.”
NATIONAL ADVOCACY GROUPS MAP OUT PLAN OF ACTION
In the days after Typhoon Haiyan hit Central Philippines, NaFFAA said it has been working closely with the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA), the Asian American Justice Center (AAJC) and other national advocacy groups to map out a plan of action regarding TPS. In addition to letters to Congress, messages were also sent to the Philippine Embassy and other consulates across the U.S.
In a letter to Philippine Ambassador Jose L. Cuisia, Jr., Navarra formally called on the Philippine government, “as a matter of courtesy, to formally request the Obama administration to give the matter its utmost consideration.” Navarra emphasized the humanitarian aspect of TPS, “which allows Filipino breadwinners in the U.S. to be able to go home to the Philippines for closure (in case of death in the family) and to get them to rebuild their lives. It is for this humanitarian reason that there is an outpouring of over whelming support from across the country for the designation of TPS status for the Philippines.”
In pressing for a favorable response from the Aquino administration, Navarra points out that TPS provides important remittance benefits that will help the Philippine economy. Remittances back to El Salvador, which made up over half of all export earnings, have been critical to economic development, and exceeded US foreign aid.
“But to make this happen, there must be public pressure from the community because it’s ultimately up to the President to make this designation,” Navarra explains. “I am calling on all Filipino Americans to call or write their US Senators and US Representatives, urging them to pressure the Department of Homeland Security, to act expeditiously on this matter.”
To date, more than 100 national and local Filipino American and civic organizations have signified their endorsements. They include the AFL-CIO, American Immigration Council, the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, the United Methodist Church, Alliance of Filipinos for Immigrant Rights and Empowerment (AFIRE), American Coalition of Filipino Veterans (ACFV), NANAY, Council for Filipino American Organizations of Central Florida, Filipino American Association of Philadelphia, Order of the Knights (New York Chapter), Uplift International (Denver, Colo.), Federation of Filipino American Organizations of Georgia, and the Philippine-American Society of Greater Dayton.
Navarra asked Fil Ams and supporters to call or send letters to their respective US Senator and US Representative, Hon. Jose L. Cuisia, Jr., Philippine Ambassador to the U.S., 1600 Massachusetts Ave NW, Washington, DC 20036, firstname.lastname@example.org, Tel. (202) 467-9300; and to Hon. Rand Beers, Acting Secretary, Department of Homeland Security, 3801 Nebraska Ave, NW, Washington, D.C. 20528 to support TPS.