WASHINGTON, D.C. – Hundreds of undocumented Filipinos in the United States will benefit from US President Barack Obama’s order to allow young illegal immigrants to stay in the country so long as they’ve not broken any laws, a Fil-Am group predicted.
“We welcome and applaud President Obama's announcement today giving legal status to young immigrants whose parents came to this country without legal status,” said a statement from the National Federation of Filipino American Associations (NaFFAA).
The group, which serves an umbrella of dozens of Fil-Am organizations across America, agreed with the President “that it makes no sense to expel talented young persons who are, for all intents and purposes, Americans.”
Among those celebrating today’s announcement was Pulitzer Prize winning Filipino journalist Jose Antonio Vargas who revealed last year that he too was an undocumented immigrant. He won the coveted journalism award while working for the Washington Post in 2008.
He was in the center of a Time Magazine cover story that hit newsstands today. His 4,500-word essay delved on the need for Congress to enact the DREAM Act – a proposed law that opens a path for citizenship to young illegal immigrants who have served in the military or finished college here.
The measure has been stuck in Congress and the highly divisive nature of immigration reforms virtually guaranteed it would remain in limbo until at least after the November elections.
President Obama’s directive mirrors the DREAM Act but only provides for 2-year permits to live and work in the US, with no limit on how many times the permits can be renewed.
The order covers only undocumented immigrants without criminal records who were brought into the country when they were less than 16 years old but not older than 30 years old this year.
The order is estimated to benefit about 800,000 undocumented immigrants.
“We know there are hundreds of young Filipinos who have grown up in the United States as Americans but have no basic rights. They do not present a threat to this country. They are, instead, valuable assets to a nation that can use their skills and talents for the betterment of American society,” NaFFAA spokesman Jon Melegrito said.
It was too early to gauge the national mood following President Obama’s surprise announcement. But one indication perhaps of how immigration is such an unsettling issue, President Obama was heckled by a reporter from an conservative website as he unveiled the new policy in the White House this afternoon.
“We are grateful for the courage of activists like Jose Antonio Vargas, a Filipino journalist, who has taken great risks in calling attention to the plight of these young people,” Melegrito said.
They called on Capitol Hill to pass the DREAM Act immediately and “end the nightmare of a generation of young people who are Americans and deserve to have the basic rights that all Americans enjoy.”