Young FilAms extend ‘global bayanihan’ to undocumented immigrants

From left, Bea Sabino, Yves Nibungco, with Sofia Campos, national chairman of United We DREAM and AnakBayan-NJ’s Julia Reyes at a recent forum at Rutgers University in New Jersey. Photo by Noel Pangilinan

By Noel Pangilinan

Bea Sabino, 21, manned the registration table as Yves Nibungco, 24, gave instructions to prepare the stage for the Jersey City forum on President Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals or DACA, an initiative that would allow young undocumented immigrants to stay in the U.S. for at least two years. Across the Hudson in Queens, another young FilAm, Matthew Cheirs, 25, was actively engaged in welcoming young immigrants to a similar forum.

While hundreds of thousands of undocumented immigrant youth across the country have filed applications for deportation relief and permits to temporarily stay in the U.S., Bea, Yves and Matthew won’t be joining them. They don’t have to: Bea and Yves came to the U.S. with proper immigration documentation; Matthew was born in the U.S.

Yet, all three are actively involved in the campaign to help undocumented immigrant youth fight for the right to stay, study and live in the United States. All three are staunch advocates for a comprehensive overhaul of the U.S. immigration system.

“You can say this is our global bayanihan,” Matthew, chairman of AnakBayan-New York, said after the forum in Queens. “This is the spirit of community.”

Matthew Cheirs

Matthew, who was born in New York to a Filipina mother and an American father, said he became familiar with the Filipino word “bayanihan” because of his involvement as youth coordinator for the Bayanihan Filipino Community Center in Woodside, Queens. Several Filipino organizations and those from other immigrant groups consider the community center as their home base.

For his part, Yves, the national chairman of AnakBayan-USA, said his involvement in the movement for comprehensive immigration reform was borne out of “solidarity with our fellow Filipinos and other immigrant groups in the U.S.”

“No human is illegal and we all have our rights to pursue our dreams,” said Yves, who grew up in Navotas and joined his father in the U.S. as a young boy.

Bea, chair of AnakBayan-New Jersey, said her own experience as an immigrant in the U.S. motivated her to campaign for immigrant rights. She was 15 when she came to the U.S. after her mother, petitioned for her, her father and her sibling. Despite having the necessary papers, Bea, who hails from Antipolo, said the difficulty of acquiring a legal permanent resident (LPR) status or green card made her identify with those who are in the country illegally.

“I have always thought of myself as being this close to being a DREAMer and being undocumented,” she said, bringing her thumb and index finger together to illustrate her point.

The term DREAMer refers to undocumented immigrant youth who stand to benefit from a proposed legislation known as the DREAM Act (acronym for Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors) that has been languishing in both Houses of the U.S. Congress since it was first introduced in 2001.

The DACA, which took effect on August 15, is widely seen as a stop-gap measure to bridge the failure of the Obama administration to fix the immigration system or at least pass the DREAM Act.

Under the DACA program, two-year permits to stay and work in the U.S. are issued to immigrants who came to the U.S. under the age of 16, must be under 31 as of June 15 and must have been in the U.S. for at least five years. Eligible youth must also be in school or have graduated college, and must not have been convicted of certain crimes.

More than 1.7 million children and young adults are said to benefit from this deferred deportation program, according to the Migration Policy Institute. As of Oct. 10, however, only 4,591 out of about 180,000 applications have been approved, according to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).

Among those expected to benefit from deferred deportation are Filipinos. The Department of Homeland Security said in a 2011 report that Filipinos have the fifth largest illegal population in the U.S. As much as 280,000 Filipinos are said to be staying in the U.S. illegally. A major factor for the slow turn-in of applications among immigrant youth who have been living in the shadows is the fact that DACA is just a temporary measure.

“It does not lead to citizenship,” Bea said. “It’s just something you renew every two years. It doesn’t pave the way for them to be citizens of this country, not even permanent resident status.”
Matthew said the deferred action is not an amnesty. “It’s not saying you’re a citizen now. It’s saying you’re still undocumented. It’s just saying we are not going to deport you now but we can do it if we want to.” He believes the only way to solve the problem is to legalize all the immigrants.

Yves said he considers DACA as a political maneuver of the Obama administration tied up to the coming presidential elections. “The Obama administration is holding the undocumented youth hostage. Through DACA, he seems to be saying ‘If you do not elect me, then you will get Mitt Romney’,” he said.

Romney, the Republican Party’s presidential candidate, had warned he would cancel Obama’s DACA program if elected president. If and when that happens, DACA can be cancelled as early as January next year.

Despite pointing out DACA’s shortcomings though, all three agree that it is still a positive step.

“I would encourage young immigrants to apply, but I would remind them that it’s not a permanent solution,” Matthew said. Bea agreed. “Young people should apply as long as they take the proper precaution,” she said.

Noel Pangilinan is the executive editor of, a hyperlocal online news site for immigrant communities in New York City.

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