The future of some 12 million “unauthorized immigrants” in the U.S., including nearly 1 million Filipinos, is at stake in two U.S. immigration bills. If the law is enacted, multitudes of Filipinos will be deported and the remittance-dependent Philippine economy will face rough waters.
By REYNA MAE L. TABBADA
The plight of overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) and immigrants in the United States still hangs in the balance with the recent passage of U.S. Senate Bill (SB) 2611, the equivalent of House Bill (HB 4437) or The Border Protection, Antiterrorism, and Illegal Immigration Control Act of 2005. The act aims to regulate the influx of migrants in the U.S.
The two bills have to be consolidated into one bill, though. But if enacted into law, the act will have far-reaching implications not only on overseas Filipinos staying or working in the U.S. but also on the Philippine economy which is remittance-dependent.
New York-based Farida Ali, organizer of Justice 4 Immigrants (J4I), said “It is a terrible reality that as 3,000 Filipinos leave the Philippines each day, at least 3,000 families are torn apart. The two bills introduced by both U.S. Congress houses stand to create more difficult lives for at least 3.5 million Filipinos in the U.S. and the 12 million they support back home.”
“These bills, Ali further said, “will push (both Filipinos in the U.S. and their families back home) further into the shadows of marginalization, rather that improve their lives.”
J4I is a broad, non-profit coalition of organizations focusing on the welfare of migrants, with chapters in New York, New Jersey, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Seattle.
Keeping the economy afloat
Based on the 2005 Survey on Overseas Filipinos (SOF) by the National Statistics Office (NSO), some 1.33 million Filipinos worked abroad from April to September 2005. On the other hand, the J4I said that one million more Filipinos went overseas in 2006, citing Philippine government reports.
Of some estimated 10 million Filipinos working or living abroad, at least four million are in the United States, mostly in California and in the east coast. U.S. immigration authorities say about 200,000 Filipinos are staying in America illegally. Independent estimates put the figure at one million.
With most Filipinos who work abroad sending money to their families they left in the Philippines, a total of $10.7 billion in overall overseas remittances helps keep the country’s economy afloat with growth pegged at 11 percent. Of this figure taken in 2005, $6 billion came from Filipinos living or working in the U.S.
And the trend of dependency to foreign remittances lingers, as the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP) projected remittances sent by OFWs and Filipino immigrants to grow by almost 12 percent this year. This is due to government expectation of higher deployment of Filipino workers, especially medical professionals.
The SB 2611 proposes three approaches for legalization, namely: (1) guest worker program; (2) expanded detention and deportation without due process; and (3) militarization and fencing of the border.
These provisions benefit only a few Filipino workers who have already stayed in the U.S. for more than five years, giving them a chance for legalization. But not for Filipinos and other foreign nationals who have worked there for less than the given period: They would be deported to their home countries.
Aside from the financial constraints that such a scenario presents, the stipulations in SB 2611 make overseas Filipinos vulnerable and more prone to abuse by employers who would take advantage of a desperate pool of workers.
“In other words,” says Robert Roy, the Executive Director of Philippine Forum, a member organization of the J4I, “the majority of the 12 million undocumented persons (of various nationalities) in the U.S. will continue to see no light at the end of their dark tunnel that has kept them as an underclass forced to live in the shadows. The only people who stand to gain from this are slave-driving employers and big business who will prey on their vulnerability and force immigrants into indentured servitude.” (Bulatlat.com)