Will denial of TPS harm PHL-U.S. ties? Will a decision be made before Obama’s visit?

DHS Legal Counsel Rob Silver (center) met with FilAm leaders (from left) Angie Cruz, Jon Melegrito, Loida Lewis and JT Mallonga at the DHS headquarters in Washington DC on Feb. 13.  Photo by NAFFAA

DHS Legal Counsel Rob Silver (center) met with FilAm leaders (from left) Angie Cruz, Jon Melegrito, Loida Lewis and JT Mallonga at the DHS headquarters in Washington DC on Feb. 13. Photo by NAFFAA

By Maricar CP Hampton

Advocates for the grant of Temporary Protected Status (TPS) are getting impatient, but are they now resorting to threats and shaming the U.S. government?

“A denial of TPS would have serious repercussions,” Loida Nicolas Lewis, founder of the U.S. Pinoys for Good Governance (USPGG), made this statement during a recent meeting with DHS officials.

The meeting, which took place at the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) headquarters in Washington, D.C., was attended by leaders of the Filipino American Legal Defense and Education Fund (FALDEF), the National Alliance of Filipino American Associations (NaFFAA), and the USPGG.

The Filipinos met with Homeland Security Deputy Secretary Alejandro N. Mayorkas, and his legal counsel Rob Silver.

During the meeting, Lewis reminded the DHS officials that President Obama is slated to visit the Philippines in April. “I am sure President Obama would like to see this matter resolved when he visits the Philippines,” she said, according to a statement issued by NaFFAA.

When sought to clarify Lewis’ statement, communications director Jon Melegrito of NaFFAA said it was not a threat but made “within the context of the geo-political situation.”

“Kung ma-deny yung TPS before Obama goes to the Philippines, it could have a serious effect on the relationship between the two countries especially now that they are dealing with a very serious national security (issue) pertaining to China,” Melegrito explained to The FilAm Metro D.C.

He quickly added that the statement was meant to save President Obama from a possible embarrassing situation.

“I don’t think she meant it to be a threat. I think she’s suggesting na pupunta si (President) Obama sa Pilipinas it’s going to be embarrassing for him to deal with the Philippine government especially if you’re talking about security issues and then here is Obama not supporting this TPS. It might sound like a threat, but actually she’s talking more of the embarrassment,” said Melegrito.

“It’s been three months since Typhoon Haiyan and we’re still waiting for the U.S. government to act on what is clearly a humanitarian crisis,” says FALDEF President JT Mallonga, who led the delegation to DHS. “That’s why we’re mounting a full-court press because time is of the essence.”

Silver and Mayorkas assured the delegation that the DHS is “completely aware” of the devastation caused by Typhoon Yolanda. “That’s why we immediately issued immigration relief measures to ease their plight,” said Silver. For instance, on November 15, or a week after Typhoon Haiyan hit Central Philippines, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service issued reminders to Filipino nationals that they may be eligible for certain measures such as change or extension of nonimmigrant status.

Melegrito said a decision is expected any time until the “first week of March.”

“There will be a week of public engagement next week starting Monday. DHS will be soliciting public comments. Then after next week, first week of March most likely they will be issuing their decision because it’s a routine requirement that they engage the public in giving your feedback and comments before the decision. So most likely the earliest is first week of March,” he said.

Filipinos across the country have been asked to phone the DHS and the State Department urging them to grant TPS to Manila. It is not known if the phone calls are effective. TFDC tried to call the numbers but could not get through a recorded message.

Continued Melegrito: “They feel the pressure. Alam nila na it’s not just the Filipino community but also the mainstream organizations from the churches to labor union, civic organizations alam nila na malakas yung support. But they are concerned about legal requirements of TPS. They want to be extremely sure that they are not only following the law kasi very strict yung definition ng TPS.”

“There are questions like did it really impact the whole of the Philippines, so I think they have gotten all the legal requirements that was presented to them,” he said.

Another one of the DHS’s concerns, according to Melegrito, is the likelihood of a “bureaucratic nightmare.”

“Ang kinatatakutan kasi ng DHS is the administrative implication of having to process at least 270,000 undocumented. That’s the figure we are using not the 500 million that is being cited by other media organizations kasi natatakot sila kung marami. Natatakot that it will be another bureaucratic nightmare,” he said.

TPS is a humanitarian relief granted to undocumented immigrants whose countries of origin are in a state of war or hit by a calamity, such as a typhoon or an earthquake.

The grant of TPS to the Philippines will allow undocumented Filipinos – estimated at anywhere from 500K to one million — to stay legally in the U.S. for at least 18 months and find employment during that period.

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