LONG BEACH – One-by-one, Filipinos with concerned expressions on their faces raised their hands and waited for their questions to be answered regarding the upcoming comprehensive immigration reform bill that is being worked on in Washington.
A 77-year-old Filipino asked about the possible removal of petitions for adult married children in the family-based petition category.
A woman asked how she could prove that she’s been living in the United States for years, despite having no official papers or documents.
One young-looking man asked how, he as a US citizen, could petition for his mother, who has been in the country illegally for the past 20 years.
These were among several questions asked by an engaging crowd (mostly Filipinos) during the Filipino Migrant Center’s immigration forum held this on Saturday, April 3 at the First Lutheran Church in Long Beach.
Panelists, Betty Hung of Asian Pacific American Legal Center and Cynthia Buiza, a policy consultant, took turns discussing the impact of the broken immigration system and how the upcoming bi-partisan immigration reform proposal (that is still yet to be released) will affect individuals, families and businesses.
“This forum is important because we wanted to hear the concerns of the Filipino community,” said Buiza, a member of FMC.
“There are a lot of undocumented Filipinos in our community – adults and youths … it’s important for them and the immigrant community to understand what is going on so they can make the right decision when this legislation comes out.”
There are an estimated 1.2 million undocumented Asians living in the US. Some Asian and Filipino-American immigrant groups estimate that nearly half those numbers are Filipinos.
Filipinos will also be most affected, if certain family-based immigrant visas will be limited or even removed from any proposed reform legislation.
According to the US Department of State as of November 2012, of the 4.4 million people whose petitions are still pending, 462,000 of them are Filipinos or are from the Philippines.
Buiza said considering the number of undocumented Filipinos and those waiting for legal entrance, Filipinos have a huge stake when the Senate Group of Eight’s bi-partisan immigration reform bill comes out, possibly in the next two weeks. (In a more recent AP report, the senators are hoping “to finish their work this week.”)
“We need our kababayans to come out and make their voices heard,” said Buiza.
“Throughout this whole process we keep receiving word from our contacts in Washington that they are not hearing concerns from the Asian and Filipino community,” added Hung.
“We need our voices to be heard so those senators know what we want in an immigration reform bill.”
Hung and Buiza fielded questions from a very active group of about 50 community members for close to 45 minutes. The topics ranged from fake documents immigrants may possess, to what kind of documents will be needed if a bill is passed, to how much a fine would be if undocumented immigrants are required to pay one.
In essence, here are some of Hung and Buiza’s answers:
- If a bill is passed, what kind of process should undocumented immigrants expect?
This is going to be a multi-step process. So far we’re hearing that it will require for undocumented immigrants to pay a fine, pay back taxes and clear a background check to make sure they don’t have any criminal records.
“So far we’re hearing that this might be a very generous bill so as long as you don’t have any serious criminal offenses, you should qualify,” said Buiza.
- How much is the fine?
That remains to be seen. Buiza said that is one issue politicians would like to hear feedback from the community. What is an acceptable fine? How much is too much?
- Is there a timeframe as to which undocumented immigrants will benefit from the passage of this bill?
Right now, Buiza and Hung have not heard of any time requirement or residency requirement.
- What kind of documents will be needed if a bill is passed?
Finding those documents can be challenging, said Hung. She said some undocumented immigrants either possess no documents or lost them.
She advises undocumented people to keep receipts from their trips to a grocery story, keep bank statements, letters from a clergy that shows you are a member of the church, letters from family relatives, rental agreements, a library card, basically as Hung said, “anything with your name on it that you can think of that shows you are and have been here.”