Filipino groups brace for May 1 immigration rally

PINOY Newsmagazine/Philippine News
May 2006

By Ted Regencia

CHICAGO — Preparations are in high gear in the Filipino community for the May 1 immigration reform rally, Nerissa Nabua, of the Fellowship of Filipino Migrants (FFM) said.

As this developed, PINOY has learned that dozens of Filipino healthcare workers, were arrested and detained by immigration agents in Wisconsin.

According to a close relative of two of the detainees, the arrests were conducted third week of April, following a tip by a disgruntled individual, who also happens to be a Filipino.

The two individuals, originally from a city in southern Philippines, were released April 25, after posting a $7,000 bond, raised by relatives and friends in Chicago. The fate of the other arrested Filipinos remain unknown.

The source, who asked not to be identified, described her relatives as being “in-shock” following the arrest and week-long detention.

Time for action
“Harassments” like this, should stir the Filipino community into action, said Nabua of FFM, a founding member of the Alliance of Filipino Americans to Protect Immigrants’ Rights (AFAPIR).

AFAPIR is leading a group of Filipinos to join in the May 1 rally, which organizers hope will attract as many as 500,000 people.

Last April 26, leaders of the group met to finalize their rally preparations. For the event, the AFAPIR delegation will wear uniform shirts and carry United States and Philippine flags, Nabua said. They will also bring whistles and play drums “Sinulog-style” to bring attention to their call for immigration reform.

Nabua is urging Filipino leaders from various organizations in Chicago, to join forces with AFAPIR in demanding for immigration reform.

She also urged individuals to join the rally, even as she conceded that many kababayans may be reluctant to show up and march, for fear of detention. Kababayans (countrymen) like Jun of Skokie, who quit his job as a sailor and jumped ship, to become a caregiver here; or Nesita of Chicago, who traded her job as a high school science teacher in Mindanao, for a healthcare position.

“We are sensitive to their concerns” Nabua said, as she hastened to add that those who can must join.

Close to home
Others like Andy (not his real name), a Niles-based artist, photojournalist, and blogger, is heeding the call of AFAPIR. Andy, from the Visayan-speaking region of the Philippines, is organizing his friends to join in the march.

“It’s time for us to be heard. This rally could be a historic moment,” Andy said.

For Andy and his friends, many of whom are also his townmates , the immigration issue hit close to home, following the arrest of their two townmates mentioned above.

The two were not the original target of the immigration agents, PINOY has learned. However, when the agents, who showed up at the house they co-rented, were unable to find their target, they turned to the two and demanded to see their immigrantion documents. When they could not present them, they were detained.

Report of the arrest spread like wildfire, sending a chilling effect especially among the migrant Filipino community in Chicago. Still, the same community quietly raised funds through personal appeal and “text brigades” to get their townmates out of detention.

Meanwhile, Nabua branded as “un-American, inhumane and un-democratic,” the bill passed by the US House.

The House version of the immigration bill seeks to deport all undocumented immigrants and brand as criminals those who help them.

Nabua and AFAPIR are backing the US Senate version of the originally sponsored by Sen. John McCain (R-Arizona) and Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-MA).

“It’s a comprehensive bill that gives undocumented immigrants a long-term path to citizenship,” Nabua said. “This is a very progressive bill.”

Solid supporter

Senator Richard Durbin (D-IL), is one of the staunchest supporter of the Senate immigration measure.

At a rally, April 1 in Chicago, Durbin, Assistant Minority Leader, urged Congress and President Bush to take a leadership role in the immigration issue.

In a speech to mostly Latino audience, Durbin said he supports “fair and tough immigration laws” while recalling the immigrant experience of his parents, who left Eastern Europe to come to America.

Durbin, recently cited by TIME Magazine as an outstanding lawmaker, said that he opposes amnesty for undocumented immigrants, but “believes people who work hard, contribute to our economy should have the opportunity to earn legal status.” Immigration laws, he said, should not “unfairly target our immigrant population.”

During the same event, Durbin was honored by high school, college, and graduate students for his support of the DREAM Act, which allow states to provide in-state college tuition to undocumented students who grew up in the US, and would also provide a path for students to earn legal permanent residency.

One of the stories highlighted in the rally is that of Diana Mora, a top student, born in Mexico but was raised in Chicago. Diana graduated from a Chicago area high school with a GPA of 4.4. Although she was accepted to Northwestern University, she was denied access to financial aid, due to her immigration status.

There are also young and bright Filipino students in Chicago, who are facing the same ordeal, said Lawrence Benito, director of the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights said. Benito, a Filipino American said that none of them wanted to tell their story to the public because “they are afraid.”

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