“Hiding and Hiding”: Undocumented Filipinx Americans Living in the Shadows
“Even though the Philippines is where I’m from, I’m American.”
When I was a child, my mother dispensed informal legal advice at family get-togethers. Seated in a plastic lawn chair with a paper plate in her lap, she demystified immigration policy for many a rapt audience. She isn’t a lawyer.
At the time I simply assumed, as children do, that my mother knew everything. Years later, I realized that she honed her legal expertise out of necessity. I was two years old when she and I immigrated to the United States from Olongapo, Philippines; her careful legal navigation helped my dad enter the US and reunite our family. When people in our community find their residency status compromised, they often turn to my mother for help.
Your sister, is she still . . . ?hiding and hiding
In this article, names and other identifying information have been changed to protect the privacy and safety of those who spoke with me. That said, in order to provide a nuanced look at an issue that is often oversimplified, I will not spare legal details. Understanding the issues central to these immigrants’ narratives is a crucial step toward a more informed, humane understanding of immigration policies and needed reforms.
The Making of Asian America
applied for a single-entry B-2 tourist visa, and in 2000, when she was twenty-six years old, the visa arrived.
Ivy flew to California with one suitcase and four hundred dollars in her possession. With her education and experience, she found a hospital that offered to file an I-14o immigrant visa for her. The I-140, called the Immigrant Petition for Alien Worker, allows an employer to petition for a worker to become a permanent resident.
But with their sons thriving and Jerome making a modest income, the path to the American Dream seemed within the family’s reach.
So of course Jerome and Mariel were caught off-guard when their immigration lawyer disappeared. The lawyer had promised to facilitate the family’s paperwork and charged exorbitant legal fees. Now the family was left with depleted resources and no legal support in a race against time.
That was only their first try.
Luckily, Mariel had found work at a restaurant that sponsored her for an H-1B and H-4 visas for her family.
They made it for another few years. Then the restaurant filed for bankruptcy in 2009, and Mariel lost her sponsorship. Their visas expired. After nearly ten years of doing everything right, Jerome, Mariel, and their sons were officially TNT.
about his intentions to dismantle DACA. However, a report from Politico released Sunday confirmed that the President will indeed end DACA; as of this writing, the rollout of the decision has yet to be announced.
Since the election, Jerome and Mariel have considered moving back to the Philippines. But they know their sons, especially Rey, no longer consider it home. Rey’s two older brothers are married to US citizens, and by March 2018, they will be able to petition on behalf of their parents and Rey. With hope, the entire family will be on the path to legal permanent residency within four years.
For now, Mariel and Jerome are still TNT. Mariel is a cook. Jerome works as a driver and a night security guard. They are anxious about ICE raids, concerned about getting sick without health insurance—although undocumented immigrants pay taxes, they cannot qualify for Medicaid or the Affordable Care Act. For Jerome and Mariel, the psychological and emotional taxation of living in the shadows is now a way of life.
“You cannot do what you want,” Mariel says.
“You’re always on guard,” Jerome adds.
In 2006, weeks before Ivy’s H-1 visa was due to expire, an envelope arrived in the mail. She opened it, saw her permanent residency papers, and cried.
Ivy now lives in San Bernardino County. A few years after she became a permanent resident, she got married. She and her husband have a precocious five-year-old daughter named Hannah. For part of our interview, Hannah was happily nestled in her mother’s lap.
Ivy points out that Hannah, an American-born citizen, will never experience the kind of isolation that Ivy did. Hannah will be able to travel freely to the Philippines. She can expect fair wages. If she feels unsafe, she can turn to law enforcement. Thanks to the years her mother endured feeling “like nothing,” Hannah will be treated like she is somebody.
Sociologist Joanna Dreby, who studies the ramifications of illegality on mixed-status Mexican American families in her book Everyday Illegal, identifies the failure of immigration law to recognize the complexity of the lives of immigrants. We are left with an immigration system that prioritizes punishment rather than interrogating long-term resolutions, criminalizes individuals while ignoring the reasons that brought them here in the first place.
The Center for Migration Studies reports that the Trump administration’s promises of mass deportations will harm the economy and destabilize communities. In a campaign speech in Phoenix, Donald Trump said that “the central issue is not the needs of the 11 million illegal immigrants—or however many there may be . . . There is only one core issue in the immigration debate and it is this: the well-being of the American people. Nothing even comes a close second.” The glib simplicity with which Trump presents these arguments is both harmful and deceptive. There is not “one core issue” in immigration, but many challenging and intersecting ones that powerfully affect human lives.
A discourse that commodifies and dehumanizes immigrants leads to the laziest of non-solutions and does nothing to advance humane policy. If we acknowledge America’s complicity in migration and imperialism and interrogate the impact of our country’s policies and actions on real people’s lives, it may yet be possible to create lasting solutions and reforms. No matter what we do, millions of undocumented people will remain—hiding and hiding in the shadow of our nation’s collective, willful ignorance.