Tens of thousands of Filipinos across the United States were among immigrants reinvigorated by the recent move of the U.S. Supreme Court to review President Obama’s executive order on immigration.
The highest court agreed last Tuesday, January 19, to hear whether it is within Obama’s presidential powers and constitutional authority to change immigration policy without going through the Congress.
“I’m happy that there’s still hope,” said V. Sarmiento, a Filipino father of two American-born children from Long Island, New York. “Maybe our long wait to get legal status would soon be over.”
Obama executive orders
In November 2014, Obama announced a handful of executive orders that could shield as many as 5 million immigrants from deportation and allow them to get a work permit. The orders were put on hold when a federal judge in Texas stopped them from taking effect.
But if the Supreme Court gives a favorable decision for the president, his immigration programs would take effect, changing the lives of eligible Filipino families and other immigrants.
“My wife and I pray every day for a positive outcome,” Sarmiento, 51, said on the telephone. “We’re optimistic, of course.”
The decision is expected to come down in June — right in the middle of the presidential election campaigns, when immigration will be one of the key issues for both Democratic and Republican candidates.
There are two significant policies under Obama’s executive order: First, it would halt deportations and offer work permits to the parents of U.S. citizens and legal permanent residents, by creating a new program known as Deferred Action for Parents of Americans (DAPA).
Second, it would expand the 2012 initiative Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), which would provide the same protections and work benefits to some undocumented immigrants brought to the country before the age of 16. The expansion of the program would result in a greater number of eligible individuals.
While both DAPA and DACA would provide undocumented immigrants a temporary protection against removal from the country and allow them to work, neither serves as a path to a permanent resident (green card holder) status or U.S. citizenship.
The policy on permanent residency and citizenship requires congressional approval.
How many Filipinos are eligible
According to a study conducted by the Migration Policy Institute, there are 45,000 Filipinos potentially eligible for the DACA and DAPA programs nationwide.
While reports show that a significant number of these eligible Filipinos have been hesitant to apply for DACA since it started four years ago, advocates for immigrants reiterate the benefits of the program, as well as the future benefits of expanded DACA and DAPA.
“The DACA and DAPA programs will provide safety from deportation and employment authorization, enabling Filipinos to live without fear in the United State,” said Joyce Noche, a Filipino American directing attorney at the Public Law Center based in Santa Ana, Calif., part of the statewide coalition Ready California, which is working to ensure that the maximum number of eligible Californians benefit from DACA and DAPA.
A past study revealed that 45 percent of DACA recipients who obtained a work permit and government-issued identification have increased their earnings, 57 percent received a driver’s license and 64 percent said they feel a greater sense of belonging in the country.
“These programs would improve the lives of millions of people by allowing them to continue building their lives and contributing to their communities,” added Sally Kinoshita, deputy director of the Immigrant Legal Source Center, which leads Ready California. “[The Supreme Court] decision brings us one step closer to providing protections that keep families together.”
Executive actions on immigration by a U.S. president are not new. Both Pres. Ronald Reagan and George H. Bush gave a reprieve from deportation to spouses and children of those eligible for legalization.
What happens after Obama’s term
But critics say that even if the Supreme Court deems Obama’s executive action on immigration legal, he would only have six months to implement it before he leaves the White House.
As millions of immigrants could rush to apply, it may not be enough time to process their applications in a short period of time. And with most Republican candidates opposed to Obama’s immigration policy, his program could also be discontinued if one of them wins the presidency.
But Noche refuted those claims, saying that the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) “will be given time to develop and implement the application process.”
“Much of the process has already been developed,” she adds, “but there will be some time for USCIS to prepare for the application process.”
There is always the possibility that the next U.S. president could discontinue the program, she said, but “If enough people apply, it may be difficult for a new president to cancel the program.”
Asked what eligible Filipinos should do to prepare their applications, Noche says that they should start gathering documentation to prove that they qualify for expanded DACA or DAPA and saving money for the application fees.
“[But] beware of immigrations scams,” she noted. “Unfortunately, there are many immigration scams that promise quicker results or other assistance.”
This story was produced for Inquirer.net and New America Media in collaboration with Ready California (Ready-California.org), a statewide coalition working to ensure that the maximum number of eligible Californians benefit from DACA and DAPA. For more information about how to apply for DACA, go to: www.ilrc.org/daca.