Saturday, May 06, 2006

US Immigration Reform Law Should Alarm Ilonggos

It seems that everyone in Iloilo City nowadays has a relative living and working abroad. Moreover, most of the people I know seem to be planning of migrating (especially to the United States) and those who do decide to stay behind are left wondering whether they are better off living abroad.

That is why the recent rumblings in the United States have aroused considerable interest among Ilonggo households with relatives working there. While our Labor Day rallies here turned out to be anemic, over a million immigrants turned out all across America to protest moves by the US Congress to further criminalize illegal immigration, restrict the number of undocumented aliens and bolster border security. Dubbed the “Day Without Immigrants,” the protest action called on illegal immigrants to boycott work or school and avoid spending money for one day to dramatize their plight and likewise show their economic muscle.

One protester, Melanie Lugo of Denver, succinctly summed it all up by saying: “We are the backbone of America, legal or illegal, it doesn’t matter. We butter each other’s bread. They need us as much as we need them.” Another protester, Puerto Rican-born Rene Ochart of Manhattan, said: “Everyone’s an immigrant here. The only real American is the Indian.”

So how does this event, happening thousands of miles away, affect us Ilonggos?
If the proposed Immigration Reform bill in its current form becomes law, expect the US government to implement a sweeping crackdown on illegal aliens in their country and thousands of Filipino TNTs (Tago-ng-Tago) will be deported back to the country. Moreover, it will be harder to get a visa as the US Embassy will be imposing more stringent measures on tourist visa applicants in an effort to limit the entry of Filipino overstayers in their country. A “softer” version of the bill, said to be favored by President George W. Bush, is now pending in the US Senate. The said version proposes a “guest-worker program” and offers illegal immigrants a path to citizenship thru amnesty.

Regardless of what version is enacted, efforts by the American government to reform their immigration laws is sure to have a negative impact not only on the lives of individual Filipino families who rely on the dollar remittances of relatives working in the US but on the entire Philippine economy as well.

This development should be a real cause for alarm for our high government officials considering the fact that only a couple of years ago, the Japanese government imposed a crackdown on Filipina entertainers. The “Anti-Human Trafficking” campaign of Japan resulted in 80,000 “Japayukis” returning back to the Philippines.

With the Philippine’s over-dependence on dollar remittances, we can ill-afford to lose another lucrative market for our most famous export, the OFW. Considering the impact of this legislation on our country’s economy, I wonder what our own government is planning to do to address this issue.

As individuals, we watch helplessly as these events in America unfold. The issue is quite complicated and the Americans are quite right in trying to rid their country of unwanted illegal immigrants. On the other hand, illegal immigrants undeniably contribute to America's development as the "Day Without Immigrants" rally unequivocally proved. At the end of the day, it is up to the decision-makers to hammer out a compromise "win-win" solution to the problem. But Filipino-Americans and Filipino TNTs must make their voices be heard in the current debate.

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