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Opinions: Immigration Reform

THE ROAD AHEAD / 9 July28 2007

Pulling The Ladder Up

By Rodel E. Rodis

Conceived and born of a marriage of convenience of liberal and conservative parents from the White House and the Senate, the immigration test tube baby known as “The Grand Bargain” died on June 28, 2007 of severe complications from a procedural vote with two-thirds of the Senate Republicans ganging up to claim credit for the death blow, explaining their vote with the simple talk radio mantra that was effectively used to kill it – death to amnesty!

Perhaps its defeat was a failure of marketing. If it had been labeled the "Registration of Illegal Aliens Act", it might have exploited the rationale provided by President George W. Bush who insisted that the national security interests of the US required the federal government to be aware of the identities and whereabouts of at least 12 million people living and working in the US.

The two Republican senators who led the assault on the bill, Jeff Sessions (R-Alabama) and Jim DeMint (R-South Carolina), hailed the bill’s defeat as a “victory for the American people”. Victory, the New York Times editorial opined, “if you favor semiporous borders, rotting crops, and millions of people growing old overseas as they wait to enter legally. If you want federal officials to keep thimble-dipping the immigrant ocean with raids and detentions that shatter families and cripple businesses, and state and local government to go on erecting a ramshackle grid of disjointed immigration policies, then this debacle was for you.”

For the Filipino community, this was an enormous defeat. The bill contained the Akaka Amendment, sponsored by Sen. Daniel Akaka (D-Hawaii), that would have provided at least 35,000 immediate relative visas to the married and unmarried offspring of Filipino WWII veterans with approved immigrant visas. If the bill had been approved, they would have had a chance to join their veteran fathers in the US while their fathers are still alive. With their octogenarian fathers dying at an exponential rate and with their petitions being extinguished with their fathers' deaths, the chances are slim for most of them to immigrate to the US.

Along with this number are approximately 400,000 other Filipino relatives in the Philippines with approved immigrant visas “growing old overseas” while waiting decades for their priority dates to be current so that they can immigrate to the US. The bill contained a provision that would have added additional immigrant visas to clear the backlog within four (4) years.

The bill’s defeat is especially painful to the estimated 600,000 Filipinos in the US who are “overstaying tourists”, what Filipinos humorously refer to as TNTs, folks who are tago ng tago (hiding and hiding) and takot na takot (very fearful of being caught). There is nothing humorous at all about their marginalized existence, working for minimum or even below-minimum “under the table” wages, unable to obtain drivers licenses, always worried that each morning might be their last free moment in the sun if they are apprehended by federal immigration agents.
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."


The immigration reform bill would have provided them with probationary Z visas and a path to eventual legalization after a decade of good moral conduct (no criminal acts), being regularly employed, paying taxes and learning to read and speak English.

Perhaps no one gloated more gleefully at the defeat of the immigration bill than right-wing columnist Michelle Malkin, who has made a career out of bashing illegal aliens in her columns which regularly appear in over 200 newspapers in the US and in her regular TV appearances on The O'Reilly Factor and in Hannity & Combes.
The irony of course is that this right-wing pit bull was born as Michelle Maglalang to a Filipino physician father, Dr. Apollo Maglalang, and a Filipina schoolteacher mother, Rafaella. Her Filipino parents immigrated to the US in 1969 as a result of the passage of an immigration reform bill in 1965 that was co-authored by Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-Massachusetts), the same co-author of the current immigration reform bill opposed by Malkin.

Malkin and other right-wing ideologues like Pat Buchanan favor the old immigration law that was in existence from 1920 to 1965 that capped annual immigration at 150,000 a year and which provided immigrant visas to people who easily assimilated into the American fabric. The favored immigration policy of right-wingers was heavily slanted towards European immigration as the quota for each country was arbitrarily based on the percentage of immigrants who entered the US through Ellis Island in 1920. Thus, if Germans were 35% of the total percentage of the people who immigrated to the US in 1920, then they would be allotted 35% of the total number of immigrant visas doled out each year. Until 1965, the rest of the world, outside of Europe, would be limited to no more than 50 immigrant visas a year. This restriction even included the Philippines after the country became a US commonwealth in 1935.

If Sen. Kennedy had not persevered in pushing for the liberalization of US immigration laws to allow for expanded family immigration and the inclusion of professionals from countries like the Philippines, Michelle’s parents would never have had the opportunity to immigrate to the US and Michelle would never have been born in the US. In fact, tens of thousands of Filipino physicians in the US who have registered as Republicans (like Michelle’s father) would not have been able to immigrate to the US if it wasn’t for Sen. Kennedy, who is regularly bashed by these very same Fil-Am Republicans. What's that about our utang na loob (debt of gratitude)?

Unfortunately, like Michelle, many of these Filipinos who have made it in America have chosen to pull up the ladder that brought them to success in America to prevent others from being able to climb up that ladder as they did. It was a ladder that others before them worked to set up for them.

Those Filipinos seeking to climb up the ladder to make it in America, as Michelle Maglalang and her parents have done, must organize themselves to have a voice in policy, to counter the relentless bashing of Michelle Malkin. While millions of undocumented Mexican immigrants have organized themselves into a political force, demonstrating in rallies throughout the US and presenting a human face to their issues, the Filipino TNTs have stayed in the background, out of the radar, not wishing to speak out about their issues and their plight. In part, this is cultural as it is an Asian belief that the nail that sticks out is the one that gets pounded.
But this cultural belief runs counter to the old American saw that the greasy wheel gets the grease. If you don't speak up and speak out, as the Mexican undocumenteds have done, you won't get the attention you need for your issues. The 600,000 Filipino TNTs in the US (1 out of every 5 or 6 of us) have to organize themselves to make the issue of their legalization a top priority for the community just as the passage of the equity bill for Filipino WW II veterans issue has been in the past few years.

They must ask that Filipinos who came up the ladder laid for them by others before them must also work to keep the ladder down for others as well.

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 @
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