All about Jane: 'Immigration reform not all inclusive'
NEW YORK CITY, USA – Her real name is not Jane. But like millions of undocumented immigrants in the US, Jane is not comfortable revealing her true identity.
"I'm not really afraid," Jane told Rappler. "Just being cautious," she said, as she studied the menu. Rappler met Jane, 32, at a coffee shop in New Jersey. She lives in Queens, NY and has been volunteering at a community organization helping undocumented immigrants since 2008.
"My mom is more afraid of me being an activist than being undocumented."
Jane first visited New York as a tourist in 1999. She traveled back and forth on a tourist visa until she earned her degree from the University of the Philippines in 2006.
Armed with her Fine Arts degree, she searched for jobs in New York and in the Philippines but did not find any so she took on babysitting jobs and worked as a cashier at a discount store.
It was in 2008, back in Bulacan, when she was given a work visa to work as a graphic artist in New York City. The visa expired last year and she was not allowed to renew it. Jane made the tough decision to stay and risk not having an income.
She eventually found a job cleaning houses in Manhattan.
"I feel like I belong more now," Jane said with a smile. "Before I couldn't relate to them, now I know this is how it feels."
It is the feeling that 11 million undocumented immigrants, with about 200,000 and one million Filipinos, share. That feeling of uncertainty and of being in limbo, not knowing if today would be the day that a knock on the door leads to a trip to a detention center.
"Being in New York," Jane confessed, "it is sort of a safe place for us. No one really bothers you."
But not for those who are in Arizona, Utah, Indiana, Alabama, Georgia or South Carolina, where there are laws allowing police to question people about their immigration status.
In 2010, Arizona passed a law known as SB 1070, requiring the police to question anyone they arrest about immigration status if they suspect the person is in the country illegally. The other states modeled their laws after Arizona.
Despite the sense of security being in a city and state which supports US President Barack Obama's recent executive action on immigration, Jane said she and many others still feel vulnerable.
"Right now, what they are proposing in the immigration reform, that will just strengthen those border restrictions, that may increase arrests," she said. "It does not address the root of the problem and it only caters to certain and specific groups."
The reforms which President Obama announced on November 20, are centered around plans to expand eligibility for the current Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) initiative, a program that benefits young people who came to the United States as children, including those who entered the country before January 1, 2010, regardless of their age today.
The executive action also includes plans to create a Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents (DAPA) initiative, for the parents of US citizens and lawful permanent residents who meet certain criteria.
Undocumented parents of US citizens and permanent residents who have lived in the US for at least 5 years may be granted legal reprieve and could also receive work permits.
Jane and about 30 members of her community organization cannot benefit from those reforms. Jane has no children, and she came to New York on a work visa.
But many say Obama's executive action is a tremendous win for the immigrant community. Immigration reform advocates believe it paves the way for a broader immigration reform when Congress decides to act.
"We celebrated the effort that went into it," said Melanie Dulfo, regional coordinator for National Alliance for Filipino Concerns in the Northeast (NAFCON).
"But you can't trust a win as a win. This can be reversed by the next president and this is temporary. It does not grant them status. But we do welcome the opportunity to apply."
NAFCON, Dulfo said, always pushes for comprehensive reform to ensure that "humanity is recognized."
Comprehensive reform may take longer.
On March 23, Republican New Jersey Governor Chris Christie joined Texas, Louisiana and South Dakota and filed a brief urging an appeals court to uphold a preliminary injunction which a Texas judge handed down on February 16, delaying President Obama's executive action immigration.
The 26 states involved in challenging the immigration reform have said moving forward with the programs would cause them "irreparable injuries" and argued that the policies would force them to invest more in law enforcement, health care, and education.
But the US government said that the President’s actions were a lawful use of prosecutorial discretion.
In a statement, Democrat NJ Senator Robert Menendez, who has pushed for comprehensive immigration reform, pointed to the residents who would benefit from them.
"Let's not forget that an estimated 204,000 people in New Jersey will be able to come out of the shadows and contribute to the community and the economy thanks to the President's executive actions," he said. "These are moms and dads – good people, hard-working people – who will register with the government, pass a background check, get a work permit, pay taxes and no longer fear deportation."
The sign-up process for DACA was supposed to start on March 18. It has been delayed. For DAPA, application acceptance is scheduled for May 19.
"For the moment, people can prepare their documents and get more information," said Lindy Lachia, a New York City-based lawyer handling immigration status cases.
Since November, Lachica has been fielding questions from clients.
"There are no forms yet. There are no specific details on how to apply, but the policy is there and in place, and the implementation may take awhile."
Jane, who continues her volunteer work at the community organization, said although there is not much they could offer those who are not eligible, they continue their effort in educating everyone about their rights. Sometimes, though, she confessed, that might not be enough to comfort worried and even depressed undocumented immigrants.
"We just go to their house and hold informal parties," she said. "You know, usap-usapan lang (just casual conversation). Just to let them know that we are here and we have each other's backs." – Rappler.com