FilAm Groups Launch Info Drives On Obama’s Immigration Action

by Noel Pangilinan

NEW YORK CITY – Several Filipino-American organizations launched public information drives in response to President Obama’s recent executive action on immigration that will allow undocumented immigrants to stay and work temporarily in the United States.

Over the weekend, two public forums were sponsored by Filipino-American groups; one in Jersey City on Saturday and one in Queens, New York.

“We want to help our kababayans by providing information about this new immigration relief,” Hanalei Ramos of the New Jersey-based Filipino Immigrants and Workers Organizing Project (FIWOP) said. “We want to inform them about the resources and help that they can get.”

“There is a need to educate the community so they won’t fall victims to fraud. There are people out there who will to take advantage the situation,” Anne Berryl Corotan, vice chairperson of the National Alliance for Filipino Concerns (NAFCON) said at the New York City forum.

On Nov. 20, President Obama announced a three-pronged immigration policy that calls for tighter border security, the modernization of visa programs to entice high-tech workers to come or stay in the U.S., and deportation relief for undocumented immigrants.

An estimated five million unauthorized immigrants, out of the total 11 million, are expected to be eligible for Obama’s initiative that will allow them to work and stay in U.S.  According to estimates of the Department of Homeland Security, there are 310,000 undocumented Filipinos in the U.S. as of 2012.

Immigration lawyer Cristina Godinez said in both forums that application for the new immigration relief has not yet begun. “The USCIS is still finalizing guidelines and the application forms,” she said.

“Application for the expanded DACA will start on or around February 18, while application for DAPA will begin on or around May 19,” said Godinez, who handles immigration cases at the Migrant Center at the Church of St. Francis of Assisi in Manhattan.

DACA refers to the Deferred Action on Childhood Arrivals, while DAPA is the Deferred Action on Parental Accountability. “Those who are approved under both deferred action programs will obtain three years of deportation relief and work authorization.”

The Obama executive action that will take effect in February nest year expands the DACA program by removing the age cap and extending the date-of-entry requirement to a later date. This is expected to cover an additional 290,000 undocumented childhood arrivals, referring to those who arrived the U.S. prior to turning 16 years.

Godinez explained that initial and renewal DACA applications under the June 2012 program are ongoing and the recipients will receive not two, but three years, of deportation relief and work authorization.

DAPA, for its part, allows undocumented parents of U.S. citizens and legal permanent residents who have been in the U.S. for five years as of January 1, 2010 to apply for a three-year permit to stay and work in the U.S.

“This is not an amnesty, nor does it provide a path to citizenship,” Godinez pointed out. “This is just an executive action and it is limited. Legalization of status can only happen through a legislated comprehensive immigration reform program.”

Yancy Gandionco, also of FIWOP, said Obama’s immigration action was a result of the advocacy and struggle of the immigrant community. “We celebrate this executive action as a victory. But we also recognize that a lot of immigrants were left out. We need to come together and push for genuine immigration reform,” he said.

The forum in Jersey City, held at the St. Peter’s University auditorium, was co-sponsored by FIWOP with the Center for Undocumented Students of St. Peter’s University, We Are One New Jersey, American Friends Service Committee, Anakbayan-NJ and NAFCON.

The New York City forum was held at the St. James Episcopal Church in Elmhurst, Queens. The church co-sponsored the event with the International Migrants Alliance, Philippine Forum, Anakbayan-NY and NAFCON.

Other Filipino groups have also started or have scheduled their respective information campaigns on the new immigration program. The Philippine Consulate General in New York have made lawyers available to answer questions about the executive action during its traditional Simbang Gabi sa Konsulado.

The Migrant Center at the Church of St. Francis of Assisi in Manhattan will hold a similar public forum on President Obama’s executive action on December 17.

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