The Filipino community in Queens must get busy helping would-be recipients of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program to register, and they must spread the word about immigrant rights—going door to door if they have to.
This was among the advice Filipino action groups gave during a town hall meeting last Sunday afternoon at Woodside’s Sisa Pakari community center to discuss the Trump administration’s decision to eliminate Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), what that decision means for the Filipino community in Queens and practical steps to take now and in the future.
According to the Migration Policy Institute, in 2013 the Philippines was the fourth largest country of origin of an immigrant group in the United States after Mexico, India, and China, accounting for 18.5 million immigrants in the United States, or 4.5 percent of the total 41.3 million immigrants in the country. One in four Filipino migrants are undocumented.
There are currently 22,000 DACA eligible Filipino residents in the United States, but only 6,000 have applied. A few factors account for the discrepancy of 16,000, including fear of giving out information to the government, an inability to pay application fees, and an inability to prove eligibility because of lacking documentation.
“A lot of people don’t have the same records one would have if they were documented, for example pay stubs, credit card statements, regular doctor visits, etc.” Amir Rasoulpour, a Long Island City based legal partner of the immigration law firm Torregoza Legal, said in an email. “Some people entered and went right to work rather than school so there are no records showing when they came.”
Queens is home to about 47000 Filipinos, or more than half of New York City’s Filipino population, documented and undocumented. It’s unclear how many of DACA-eligible residents there are, and how many have already applied.
Rasoulpour, who used to work for the Woodside nonprofit, Aid Center of Queens County, was invited to the town hall to provide the legal context for DACA, answer technical questions and clarify who can and who cannot apply for a renewal.
“If your work authorization is expiring between September 5th and March 5th of next year, you can renew. Those are the only people,” Rasoulpour said. “If your work authorization expires, say, March 6th you can’t renew.”
The event, officially titled the Filipino Town Hall and Community Response Meeting on DACA, was hosted by three Filipino action groups: The National Alliance of Filipino Concerns, Anakbayan New York, and Migrante New York.
“Events like this help our community to know their rights at the end of the day, know your rights,” said Redentor Tirona, National Alliance of Filipino Concerns (nafcon) representative. Tirona acted as the town hall’s master of ceremonies, facilitated a Q&A, and organized a seminar instructing attendees on what to do when confronting Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials. Participants deemed the topic necessary as concern has grown over ICE agents identifying themselves as police officers.
Darren Williams, ICE Enforcement and Removal Operations field director of New York City, contacted afte
r the meeting, said in an email: “The term police is a universally accepted method of law enforcement identification.”
Speaking as panelists alongside Rasoulpour were grass-root organizers Danica Pagulayan and Rodrigo Bacus. Both pushed for attendees to think beyond DACA towards a broader social consciousness.
“Yes, this is effecting Filipinos, but it’s also effecting workers of all kinds,” Bacus, a community lawyer working for New York City’s Urban Justice Center, reminded attendees.
“A repeal of DACA is an attack on all immigrants,” Pagulayan said, seated at a table in front of approximately 20 attendees at the community center. Pagulayan, a member of the New York branch of Filipino National Democratic group Anakbayan, urged attendees to consider the repeal’s implications. “It raises these questions of who is worthy of being here, who is worthy of x, y, z.”
Pagulayan called for a push in aggressive campaigning, emphasizing the role grass-root movements play in fighting for the rights of immigrants, translating to “outreaching from door to door, restaurants, apartment buildings, even using social media, getting graphics out there so that our message can circulate.”
“It’s just about really being engaged in the community as much as possible,” Pagulayan said. And along with that, she wants these issues to be understood within a historical context.
“We have to keep in mind why we’re here in the first place,” Pagulayan said, explaining that Filipino families come to the states because of a lack of job opportunities and farmland, “because of forces like martial law which forced our family members here and we have to recognize the role the U.S. plays in that,” Pagulayan continued referring to the bilateral relationship between the Philippines and the United States, and the long standing military presence of the U.S. in the island country.
The town hall consisted of both young people interested in community engagement, and seasoned volunteers concerned with inspiring broader interest.
“How do we invite more worker-led organizations to spaces like this, and how do we as organizers tell them how this issue impacts them as well,” said town hall attendee Lorena Mcrae, secretary general the New York branch of Migrante International, a global alliance of Filipino workers overseas.
Mcrae says she wants to see Filipino immigrants not directly affected by the DACA repeal ask what implications this action has.
“It won’t stop there. It’s DACA, and then what?” She asked. It’s a question Rasoulpour couldn’t answer.
“I can’t predict anything with this administration, they are so erratic,” said Rasoulpuor.
For now, Rasoulpour urges those in contact with DACA recipients to encourage them to renew their status while they can as organizers like Bacus, Pagulayan, and Tirona continue pushing for wider awareness within Filipino action groups.
“People are in dire need, right now so, ” Tirona said, “What do you do?”