By Ron Gagalac/ABS-CBN News – Several Filipino organizations and supporters of President Rodrigo Duterte in the United States are dismayed by the Filipino’s leader’s pronouncement that he will “not lift a finger” to help troubled Filipino immigrants amid the immigration crackdown of US President Donald Trump.
Pilipino Workers Center (PWC), one of the largest Filipino organizations in the US based in the West Coast, said it feels betrayed that Duterte was turning his back on Filipino immigrants in the US who have significantly contributed to the Philippine economy over the years.
“Presidente Duterte, marami sa mga undocumented dito sa Amerika sumuporta sayo, mga avid fans mo, nag-kampanya sa Facebook lahat-lahat. Ngayon, undocumented sila, yung iba nga nagpadala pa ng pera doon [sa campaign] eh. Ngayon, in trouble kami, hindi naman namin akalaing mananalo iyang si [Donald] Trump, akala namin si Hillary [Clinton], bakit hindi mo tutulungan?” said PWC Associate Director Lolita Lledo.
Search to Involve Pilipino Americans (SIPA), another Filipino-American group, also expressed dismay over Duterte’s statements on the plight of Filipino immigrants.
“I don’t feel good about that. It’s not just the Filipinos. He is isolating all the ethnic groups, and as a Filipino community, we have to make sure that everybody’s rights are protected,” said Dorothy Gamoning, SIPA’s Executive Director.
Gamoning said, while some Filipinos are undocumented, they are not criminals, and they need help from government to legalize their stay.
“They provide a lot to the workforce. They are one of the most educated among the ethnic Asian groups so when they come here, they provide a strong work ethic. And, of course, there is the large Filipino nursing community and that is important,” she said.
Pinoys in America are major sources of dollar remittances to the Philippines. In 2016, around 8 billion dollars were remitted to the Philippines via the US financial system. These remittances, however, also include those were coursed through US banks and remittance centers operating in other areas such as the Middle East.
In a press briefing late January 29, Duterte reminded Filipinos in the US to be “on the right track” with their status.
“If you are not allowed to stay there where you are staying, get out. Because if you are caught and deported, I will not lift a finger. You know that it is a violation of the law,” Duterte said.
Lledo said their members lament that Duterte does not seem to care for what the government calls the country’s modern-day heroes.
“Sabi nga, kami ang mga bagong bayani. We are the modern-day heroes, ganito ba ang trato sa mga bayani? Kapag ikaw ay nagkaroon ng problema, sa halip na tulungan ka, hindi ka tutulungan,” Lleod said.
She said, while she understands that Duterte may only want Filipinos to fix their immigration status, the group feels bad that the president did not offer any help to ease the plight of undocumented Filipino immigrants.
“Utusan mo ang mga Philippine Consulate dito sa Amerika, ang daming paraan. Halimbawa, lahat ng Filipino-American immigration lawyers, pwedeng anuhin ng consulate — i-network, parang rapid response — sakaling merong nahuli, na either libre or mababa lang ang bayad sa mga abogado na tutulong sa kanila,” she said.
Lledo added that their members now tend to compare Duterte with Mexican President Enrique Nieto. The latter, they said, stood by its citizens when faced with the immigration crackdown in America.
“Nireremind namin, bakit ang Mexico, bakit ang dami nilang tulong, sabi niya ayaw niya (Duterte) makialam sa policy ng Amerika. Hindi naman nakikialam eh, mga citizen niyo pa rin iyon eh. Mga Pilipino pa rin yun, tinutulungan niyo lang kung paano (mapapaayos) ang kanilang buhay,” she said.
IMMIGRANTS FILLING THE GAP
PWC executive director Aquilina Soriano Versoza, meanwhile, allayed fears that even Filipinos whose status are legal will be affected by Trump’s “America First” policy.
Versoza said many of the jobs that Filipinos have in America are jobs that Americans do not normally want to take.
“Right now, the reality is the jobs that the immigrants are doing, they are doing them because they are not jobs that folks here want to do, from farm work to domestic work, even retail work because the pay is so low, job stability is so low. The problem is the quality of jobs and immigrants are [the ones] filling this gap, they are not really taking away jobs,” she said.
However, Versoza fears that Trump’s “America First” policy will also have its repercussions, especially among the undocumented.
“The anti-immigrant sentiment and his promise to beef up immigration enforcement and deport everyone have really caused a lot of fear and put a lot of workers in a more vulnerable position to be exploited,” she said.
“Because when police are also working in tandem with immigration, it makes it difficult for them to report if they are victims of crime, and it also makes it harder for them to speak out if they are victims of labor violation as well, so that kind of fear works in favor…to exploit Filipino immigrant workers, both undocumented and those with visas as well,” she explained.
PWC said, however, that more jobs may be available for the Filipino immigrants because of what America calls the “elder boom.”
“The baby boomers are in the retirement age and everyday, about 10,000 people per day turn 65 in this country, it’s growing exponentially, and the need for care is growing exponentially as well. In 13 years, it is projected that it’s going to be a million caregiver shortage in the United States if we keep at the same rate,” Versoza said.
CHURCH OFFERS HELP
Because of concerns on immigration, the Catholic Church has expressed its willingness to assist those in trouble.
Archbishop Jose Gomez of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles has asked their Office of Government and Community Relations to set up a special website that contains important resources on immigration.
Fr. John Brannigan, Pastor of the St. Columban Filipino Parish in Los Angeles, said that with the archbishop’s call, his parish recently set up an immigration response team guided by the archdiocese.
“The archdiocese now is asking that every parish in Los Angeles to have an immigration response team, and I have six teams trained to deal with immigration problems,” he said.
“I would do my best to help them in whatever way possible. That would mean, not being specific, people who are trained, I will refer it to them and they would facilitate whatever the archdiocese is setting up to deal with people with whatever papers they need to straighten out.”
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