Undocumented Fil-Am students push for immigration reform

By Don Tagala, ABS-CBN North America Bureau

Posted at Sep 07 2012 12:00 PM | Updated as of Sep 07 2012 08:00 PM

NEW YORK – Patricia Abella came to the US when she was only seven years old. The 23-year-old business management student says she never knew she was undocumented until she couldn’t get state issued ID’s and driver’s license.

Abella said, “Growing up my mom would tell me, don’t tell people you don’t have papers, they’re going to take you, don’t open the door, that might be immigration coming, someone’s going to get you, so she instilled that fear in us just try to be good in school and hopefully, once you get good education, you can get your papers.”

Abella’s undocumented sister got married last year and was able to legalize her status.

Patricia, who is openly gay, was asked to do the same–she was told getting married is the easiest way to legalize her status. But same-sex couples still do not enjoy immigration benefits.

“But even If I get married I can’t do this (legalize status). Damn, even that to make me happy, I can’t do it,” said Abella.

Juan Bangcaya came to the U.S. when he was two years old. The 25-year-old theatrical technician said he never knew he was undocumented until he turned 16 and applied for a driver’s license.

“That’s when they laid the news on me that I was undocumented, whatever, from then on I sort of didn’t care anymore, like college didn’t matter, so, I was destroyed, all my college dreams were gone, can’t go to college, can’t get the loans,” said Bangcaya.

Like many “Dreamers” these Filipinos call themselves “undocumented Americans.” They may not have the necessary papers but they were raised as Americans in the only country they know.

Now, thanks to President Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals Program (DACA), these undocumented Filipino students have a chance at temporary legal status and a chance to get a job legally.

Both have applied for the DACA program thru the help of the Filipino American Legal Defense and Education Fund (FALDEF) and the Philippine Consulate in New York. It’s only a matter of weeks before they would find out if they qualify for DACA.

If granted temporary legal status Abella said, “I’m going to get my license, which is my dream, ever since I was young I just wanted to drive a car.”

“It’s one step forward to being normal,” said Bangcaya.

While Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney did not directly address what he will do for the 12 million or so undocumented immigrants during his speech at the Republican National Convention, the 2012 Republican Platform opposes Obama’s DACA, the Dream Act or any form of amnesty.

The GOP’s top immigration priority includes supporting a “humane procedure to encourage self-deportation,” said the American Immigration Lawyers Association.

These Filipino dreamers are hoping that if the President gets re-elected, Obama will work on his 2008 campaign promise of passing a comprehensive immigration reform as well as passing the Dream Act – the legislation that would legalize undocumented students and provide them a path to citizenship.

DACA-eligible Filipinos can take advantage of the “Path for Dreams Program” provided by the Filipino-American Legal Defense and Education Fund and the Philippine Consulate in New York –

A free DACA screening will be held at the St. Mary’s Church in Jersey City, New Jersey on Saturday, September 22, from 9 am to 4 pm.