Time for you to become American

The author: 'We have a bill'

The author: ‘We have a bill’

By Rio Guerrero

“I’m sorry. But based upon current U.S. immigration law, there really is nothing that I – or anyone else – can do for you at this time. I know that you and your family did not come to me today expecting or wanting to hear this news. And, I hate to give this advice. I truly sympathize with you and your dire situation. But I believe that if you continue to wait patiently, someday this country will change its laws to help you and your family live without fear and treat you with respect as proud Americans.”

Too often over the past 12 years, I have had to deliver this unfortunate truth to hundreds – if not thousands – of people, many of them Filipino, seeking my legal advice. Finally, the change in U.S. immigration law that, at times, seemed so far away may arrive soon. I could not be more excited and happy for all those “Americans” waiting to be legalized.

At 5:30 a.m., on Wednesday, April 10, 2013, I boarded a bus from Chinatown in Manhattan for a day-long trip to Washington D.C. to participate in the National Rally for Immigration Law Reform on the West Lawn of Capitol Hill. Along with other Filipinos and many other Asian Pacific Americans supporting this cause from New York City, we unloaded from our caravan of buses in Washington D.C., to march with the incredible throng of other immigrants and advocates, for a day of activism under the bright sun and 90-degree heat. Before this trip, I felt a strong urge to be a part of this moment in U.S. history. But it was not until I stood on that lawn staring up at that shining Capitol dome, side by side with over 100,000 other “Americans,” that I truly understood why I had come.

I was there for all those people whom I had advised over these past 12 years. People who – you could see in their eyes and feel from their words – were good and honest, seeking a better life for themselves and their children in America. People who wanted nothing more than to have the country they love so much, to love them back. I chanted and cheered at that Washington D.C. rally for them. Because they have no vote and no voice, I would be theirs for them.

Only one week later, on April 17th, the U.S. Senate proposed the Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act of 2013 (the “Bill”). On that day, so many of us – attorneys, advocates and immigrants – exulted, “We have a bill!” Indeed, we have a bill. After over a decade of waiting, we have a bill to debate, amend and – hopefully – to pass as a practical, humane and comprehensive immigration reform law.

There are many important concepts included in the Bill. But here are a few that should directly affect our Filipino community.

The new Registered Provisional Immigrant (RPI) status will allow countless undocumented Filipinos living in the U.S. to eventually secure work authorization and a travel document. Ultimately, after holding 10 years of RPI status, those Filipinos will be eligible to become U.S. “green card” holders. After three years of “green card” status, they may apply for U.S. citizenship.

The DREAM Act will be passed. Currently, the Obama Administration continues to exercise its Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) policy. While DACA provides work authorization and relief from deportation for DREAMers – young adults and children who would otherwise be eligible to adjust to “green card” status under the most-recently-proposed draft of the DREAM Act – the relief is only temporary. Passage of the full DREAM Act would be a long-awaited victory.

The Fourth Preference Family-based Immigrant Category benefitting the brothers and sisters (and their children) of U.S. Citizens will be eliminated. Filipinos know this category very well. In fact, it is likely that there are millions of Filipinos waiting in the over 20-year backlog for these visas. Even though this is just a bill, I am sure you will see thousands of Filipinos filing Fourth Preference immigrant visa petitions now, in order to “grandfather” their petitions prior to the elimination of this category.

Because this is only a bill – and not law – it is more valuable to recognize and understand the general concepts that the Senate supports as opposed to focusing on the details certain to be amended. Also, understand that the U.S. House of Representatives has not yet proposed its own comprehensive immigration law reform bill. Based upon the current political party composition of the House, it is likely that substantive changes to this Bill are inevitable.

Nevertheless, the pathway to U.S. citizenship remains a concept commonly supported by both political parties – even if only because of the stark political outlook currently forecast for Republicans during next year’s mid-term elections if valuable immigration reform does not pass. Whatever the reasons – political or social – the day is near when I will no longer have to give that unfortunate advice. I look forward to delivering news of a pathway to becoming a legal American for millions.

Attorney Rio Guerrero is a partner with the immigration law firm Guerrero Yee LLP. He is the recipient of a 2012 Best Lawyers Under 40 National Award from the National Asian Pacific American Bar Association.

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