The Year That Was
By Jon Melegrito
Letter from Washington
Shown are Fil-Ams who supported President Obama's immigration relief plan where he boldly took executive action providing temporary legal standing to nearly 5 million undocumented immigrants last November.
Year 2014 ended much the same way it started for the Filipino American community.
On immigration-related matters, we're still waiting for Homeland Security to grant Temporary Protected Status (TPS) to 270,000 Filipino nationals. Advocates hoped this would be included when President Obama boldly took executive action providing temporary legal standing to nearly 5 million undocumented immigrants. While this immigration relief could benefit a few thousand Filipinos – notably those who have children who are U.S. citizens – a greater number would still remain in the shadows.
Unless, of course, the Republican-dominated Congress, which is bent on punishing Obama, undergoes a change of heart. A year ago, the GOP set out a "list of principles" that could finally drive elusive immigration reforms in the House of Representatives. But promised action turned into hardened inaction.
Given a dysfunctional Congress, with Tea Party diehards and conservatives blocking Obama's every move, we applaud the President's initiatives to use his constitutional authority. Like DACA, or deferred action for childhood arrivals program, eligible undocumented immigrants who came to the US as children would be allowed to stay and work legally in the United States for two years, subject to renewal. The Migration Policy Institute estimates there are about 20,000 undocumented Filipino youths in the United States. But the US Customs and Immigration Service or USCIS reports that as of March last year only 4,041 Filipinos have applied for DACA and 3,644 have been approved.
Factors such as lack of knowledge, fear and costs may explain this low enrollment rate.
Organizations like NaFFAA have vowed to partner with other national advocacy groups this year to do more education and community outreach. Beneficiaries of President Obama's executive order need greater awareness and assurances so they can avail of this rare opportunity.
Long Way to Recovery
In the Philippines as well as abroad, people observed the one-year anniversaries of last year's devastating natural disasters, mindful of the long road to recovery.
It was in October 2013 when the deadliest earthquake in 23 years rocked the island of Bohol, claiming more than 200 lives and destroying more than 73,000 structures, including 10 of the oldest churches. The sight was heartbreaking. "These are old churches, churches that have importance to the culture of our people and our faith," said Tagbilaran Bishop Leonardo Medroso.
A year later, reports Mars Mosqueda of the Manila Bulletin, Boholanos – having not fully recovered from the trauma – still tremble at the slightest tremor, refusing to sleep and still struggling to get back on their feet. Others, however, "are courageous enough to put the nightmarish experience under the rubble of their memories."
Just three weeks after the quake, Super Typhoon Haiyan wreaked havoc not just on one island, but the whole Central Visayas region, claiming more than 6,000 lives and displacing hundreds of thousands more.
Thirteen months later, the Philippines got pummeled yet again by another typhoon (Hagupit) – one of 22 storms that hit this still scarred country each year.
For our people back home, it's been one savage autumn after another.
'Oceans of Grief and Grievance'
Meanwhile, here in the most powerful country on earth, a different kind of storm was raging. It started in Ferguson in the heat of summer. An unarmed black teenager, 18-year-old Michael Brown, was shot and killed by Darren Wilson, a white police officer, prompting angry protests in the streets across the nation. When a grand jury decided not to indict Wilson in November, outrage and frustration touched off more waves of protest, with night after night of largely peaceful demonstrators. They called for justice, an end to racial profiling and police violence.
Within days of that grand jury decision in Missouri, yet another grand jury in New York refused to indict yet another white officer in the death of yet another black man. Eric Garner was a 43-year-old father of six and grandfather of two. When he refused to be handcuffed, four cops forcibly brought him down, placed him in a chokehold and then pinned him to the ground.
As reported by the New York Times, the video of Garner's arrest shows "a frustrated man, living a wrenchingly difficult life, who's not going to take it anymore. He can't face another arrest for a very minor crime – selling cigarettes that lack the requisite tax stamps… Then you see Garner's life ebbing away before your eyes, as he keeps urgently repeating the words you'll never get out of your ears: 'I can't breathe.'"
An editorial in Fortune notes: "The failure of two grand juries to charge white police officers in connection with the deaths of two unarmed black men, Eric Garner in Staten Island and Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., has tapped into oceans of grief and grievance engendered by decades, if not centuries, of injustices."
In a savage autumn of anger and despair, people were asking why this happens over and over again. Relatives of Michael Brown and Eric Garner could only pray that their loved one's deaths would inspire positive change.
And so that was the year that was. The wait for comprehensive immigration reform and TPS dragged on. Our people back home are still picking up the pieces of their broken lives even as they continued to face yet another storm. And people here took to the streets so a black man's final words shouldn't have to ever be again: "I can't breathe."