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Opinions: Immigration Reform

 
THE ROAD AHEAD / 28 May 2007
 
 

Debate the Immigration Bill


By Rodel E. Rodis


The Philippine dailies have completely ignored the immigration bill that is working its way through the US Congress even though it will have profound consequences for the estimated 500,000 Filipinos in the Philippines with approved immigrant visas who are just waiting for their priority dates as well as for the estimated 500,000 to 1,000,000 Filipino "TNTs" (overstaying tourists) in the US who may finally get a "path to citizenship" as a result of the bill.

While I previously expressed cautious support for the bill, the Oakland-based Filipinos for Affirmative Action (FAA) has no such reservations in its opposition.

In a press release, the FAA stated its belief that the proposed bill "continues to criminalize and scapegoat immigrants, further militarizes the border, shifts immigration policy from family-based immigration to a temporary employment and merit-based immigration system, does little to fix the backlog of family petitions, and proposes an unworkable legalization plan that would benefit few undocumented.”

The FAA is factually incorrect when it charges that the bill “does little to fix the backlog of family petitions.” Title V of the bill provides 400,000 immigrant visas a year directed towards speeding up the issuance of immigrant visas for those in the backlog. If tjhe bill passes, the married sons and daughters of US citizens (3rd preference) who were petitioned in April of 2005 would only have to wait 8 years to immigrate to the US, instead of 20 years. The same would be true for siblings of US citizens (4th preference)who were petitioned in April of 2005.

The problem is for those who were petitioned after May 1, 2005. Under this bill, their petitions would be voided even if they were already approved. And those who waited for years to become US citizens so that they could petition their adult married or unmarried children and their siblings will no longer be able to do so as the bill eliminates 4 of the 5 family preference categories.

Statue of Liberty
"Title V of the bill provides 400,000 immigrant visas a year directed towards speeding up the issuance of immigrant visas for those in the backlog."


 

On the pro side, however, is the news that this past week, the US Senate approved an amendment to the bill sponsored by Sen. Daniel Akaka (D-Hawaii) that provides an additional 20,000 immigrant visas to the married and unmarried children of Filipino WW II veterans who are already in their 80s and 90s. This bill would grant them "immediate relative" status so that they can immigrate to the US as soon as possible.

As Sen. Akaka noted after his amendment was approved 89-7, “it would be a great final honor for these heroes to be joined and cared for by their adult children as they move through their golden years.”

The FAA is correct, however, in asserting that the bill “continues to criminalize and scapegoat immigrants”. Unfortunately, that is already happening now and whether this bill passes or not, the trend will undoubtedly continue. Except that if the bill doesn’t pass, the 12 million "undocumented aliens" and “overstaying tourists” will not have any relief from their continued criminalization.

The FAA also believes that the bill offers “an unworkable legalization plan that would benefit few undocumented.” That is entirely possible but let us recall that many thought the 1986 Amnesty Bill would also be unworkable. As it turned out, the bill provided green cards to at least 3 million “illegal aliens” (this term is politically incorrect but “undocumented aliens”, a term favored by the FAA, does not include most Filipino TNTs who are documented but overstaying).

This bill creates a new four-year, renewable "Z" nonimmigrant visa to the “undocumented” and “overstaying documented” population within the U.S. The Z visa is divided into three groups: a principal or employed alien (Z-1), the spouse or elderly parent of that alien (Z-2), and the minor children of that alien (Z-3). In order to be eligible for this Z visa, one must have been illegally present within the U.S. before January 1, 2007, be currently employed and pay fees and penalties totaling $1,000.

The bill provides that once a Z applicant submits a completed application, fingerprints, and is cleared by one-day background checks, he or she will receive probationary benefits which can eventually be converted to a Z nonimmigrant status after all background checks are clear and certain “triggers” are achieved.

The Z nonimmigrant may then apply to adjust status to lawful permanent residence “after the family backlog under Title V is eliminated if the Z applicant satisfies the merit requirements in the points schedule set forth in Title V, files the application for adjustment in the Z-1's country of origin and pays a penalty of $4,000.”

The bill also incorporates the DREAM Act (Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors Act) where “individuals under the age of 30 who were brought to the United States out of their own control as a minor are eligible to receive their green card after 3 years rather than 8.”

The FAA believes that the “legalization provision is a false promise for the 12 million undocumented… fraught with obstacles that are a serious deterrent to the much-needed integration of this population who exist on the margins of society.”

The FAA considers the “requirement of continuous employment and particularly the 'touch back' provision” to be “unworkable”. The Z nonimmigrant who seeks an immigrant visa is required to return to his or her country of origin to apply for legal status using the new merit-based, point system.

According to the FAA, “few undocumented believe that the Department of Homeland Security, which has made its anti-immigrant sentiments clear, will let them back in. Since the merit system favors the educated and very skilled, millions of the undocumented will not qualify for legal status. Many will likely view 'touch back' as a potential trap and not avail of it.”

The FAA may be right on that point but we will not know for sure until the bill is passed and the system is set in place. No one can guarantee that it will work but no one can also say for certain that it won’t.

But what is the alternative? To believe that the US Congress will pass a perfect immigration bill that will contain only positive provisions with no negative consequences is to engage in in pure fantasy. It just won’t happen, not in our lifetime.

Let us recall that in December of 2005, the House passed, by a lopsided margin, the extremely repressive Sensenbrenner bill that would criminalize the 12 million "illegal aliens" in the US. The November 2006 elections changed only about 10% of the 435 members of the House, enough to transfer power to the Democrats. But will it be enough to pass the bill now being considered by the Senate? Included in the Democratic majority are 35 members of the Blue Dog Democratic caucus who are ideologically more Republican than Democrat on social issues like the immigration bill.

Is the current broken immigration system better than the one now being proposed? Should the Filipino American community back this immigration bill or oppose it?

What do you think? Please send your comments.



RODEL E. RODIS
Rodel Rodis is a California attorney with a special emphasis on immigration law. He can be reached at 2429 Ocean Avenue, San Francisco, CA 94127 or by calling (415) 334-7800. Send comments to Rodel50 @ aol.com
 
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