Undocumented Pinay hangs on to hope for TPS

By Don Tagala, ABS-CBN North America Bureau

Posted at Feb 15 2014 02:40 PM | Updated as of Feb 15 2014 10:40 PM

NEW YORK – It has been three months since Typhoon Yolanda pummeled through the central part of the Philippines, leaving widespread loss of lives and damage to properties, recovery and rebuilding efforts could take years.

Philippine Consul General in New York Mario De Leon said, “Typhoon Haiyan or Yolanda affected more than 16 million Filipinos.”

Last December, the Philippines sent a request to the US Department of State to designate the Philippines under Temporary Protected Status or TPS, a humanitarian relief that would allow Filipino nationals currently living in the US to be able to work and stay there legally during the recovery period. It would also protect those who qualify from deportation.

But two months after the request was filed, TPS has not been granted to the Philippines.

Leyte native Rosalina Cienello came to the US on a tourist visa in 1995. After overstaying her visa, she has been working as a domestic worker in New York.

She said she lost her fully-furnished home and other properties in Leyte, her life savings gone after Yolanda devastated her hometown last November.

Cienello said, “Almost a million pesos—I have a mahogany plantation and a rice field. Now, nothing.”

As the sole breadwinner of her family, Cienello said she is only one of the thousands of Filipinos who would benefit under the TPS designation of the Philippines.

“So I can work in peace. So I can focus on my job here without fearing that somebody will catch me,” she said. “So it will be a big help for everybody. We’re supporting families in the Philippines.”

“And now we’re talking about rehabilitation, we know that we can contribute, our families need our help just like in her story, now that the economy is down in those affected areas,” Linda Oalican of Damayan Immigrant Workers Association said. “The only hope of families suffering there right now are their families who are working here in the US.”

An advocate for TPS, Attorney JT Mallonga said the US Homeland Security is still studying the request in consultation with the Department of State.

“It’s so very discretionary, subjective—there are no legal formula,” Mallonga said. “If they find that there are compelling, humanitarian extraordinary reasons to justify this because of displacement and loss of human lives, they will give it.”

From online petitions to private meetings with officials of various government agencies reviewing the TPS application, community leaders in the Northeast will tirelessly keep pushing for TPS to be granted.

“We’ve had positive developments over the last week to 10 days,” American Immigration Lawyers Association’s member Rio Guerrero said. “We know we have allies in the Department of State who are pushing for TPS, we remain confident that it will be granted and we’re working closely with the Philippine Embassy to get that accomplished.”