President Donald Trump's decision to scrap a program that protected undocumented migrants brought into the US as children sets off tremors of fear and anxiety in the Filipino-American community. Ana P. Santos reports.
Migrant rights groups in the Philippines and the US have condemned the ending of a program that protected hundreds of thousands of undocumented young people who were brought to the US as children.
US Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced Tuesday the end to the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. An estimated 800,000 undocumented young people, referred to as "Dreamers," will be affected by the scrapping of DACA which allowed people brought to the US illegally as children to legally live, study and work in America for two years, with a chance to renew.
Filipino migrant rights associations in the US state of California estimate that there are about 8,000 Filipino youth and students who actually availed of DACA, in addition to 1 million undocumented Filipinos in the United States.
"Trump's threats affect the Filipino community. It further terrorizes the already vulnerable immigrant population and puts immigrant youth enrolled in the DACA program even more at risk of deportation," said Kenneth Crebillo, the national coordinator of Kabataan Alliance (Youth Alliance), a national alliance of Filipino youth and student organizations based in the US.
Largest migrant population
In his pitch for the presidency, Trump's campaign promises included prioritizing the deportation of the estimated 11 million undocumented migrants living in the US.
When Trump won the presidency, Filipino migrant rights groups banded together to prepare for the possibility of his administration carrying out his threat. The US hosts the largest Filipino immigrant community with over 3 million Filipinos scattered across the 50 states.
"Rescinding DACA was one of Trump's campaign promises. We started preparing for it when he was elected through protests and advocacy initiatives to inform people of what their rights are. There will definitely be more protests, more information drives now," Aurora Victoria David, the secretary general of National Alliance for Filipino Concerns (NAFCON), told DW.
DACA, which came into effect under the previous President Barack Obama administration in 2012, did not offer a path to citizenship but it did offer undocumented migrants limited rights and protections that allowed them to defer deportation.
With the Trump administration's announcement that it would begin "an orderly, lawful wind down" of the program, no new DACA applications will be accepted from now on. For those currently covered by DACA, their permits will start expiring next year.
Dreamers, or those who availed of the program, will lose their status by March 2020 and could be deported to their home countries unless the US government finds an alternative for these undocumented migrants. Congress has six months to come up with a legislative solution to resolve the Dreamers' status.
"Rescinding of DACA, coupled with the anti-immigrant sentiment, makes undocumented migrants fearful of their safety and their status. The threat of deportation is always there," said NAFCON's David.
Jeremias David of Migrante Northern California is pushing for long-term solutions to tackle the plight of undocumented immigrants. "Millions of immigrants rather choose to become undocumented than go back to their home countries due to the extreme poverty and joblessness that they would otherwise go home to," said David.
The Philippines is one of the largest labor-sending countries in the world with about 10 percent of its over 100 million people living abroad as guest workers or immigrants. This migrant work force brings in about $27billion (€22.5 billion) in annual remittances, equivalent to about 8 percent of the country's GDP. Remittances from the United States are among the highest amounting to $8.9 billion in 2016.
Arman Hernando, spokesperson for Migrante International, fears that scrapping of DACA will lead to other immigration reforms that will further crack down the undocumented migrant population.
"We are worried that this (elimination of DACA) along with the hate speeches will further embolden anti-immigrant sentiments and normalize systematic abuse," Hernando told DW in Manila.
Hernando urged the Philippine government to initiate talks with the US to ensure the safety of all migrants especially those who are undocumented and now face deportation.
Further, Hernando urged the government to prepare for the possibility of mass deportation. "If it comes to that, then how will we reintegrate those that have to come back home? The government needs to prepare for that possibility."