There is one thing that affects the immigrant community in the United States of America and many are not looking.

We call this The Great Immigration Debate—TGID—that is heating up in the US Congress.

TGID hews closely on several issues.

Should the current immigration law be reformed or should it be retained as it is?

If the current immigration law is to be reformed, which part is requiring reform and why?

If a part of the law is broken, how much fixing is necessary?

How concessions are going to be granted to the new arrivals—to the new immigrants—by the “old” immigrants?

From the point of view of Asian and Pacific immigrants, there are a number of issues that should be of concern to them most.

Two big issues come to mind easily: the provisions on working visa and on family reunification.

The working visa poses many problems.

One, the applicant waits for a long time before he gets to work assuming that the application filed for and on his behalf by his employer is approved. The law says that he can only begin working October 1. This poses a long waiting period for both the employer and the applicant. Put two and two together and we have a counter-productive employment arrangement.

Two, there have been many cases in which employers have used this working visa to take advantage of workers on a working visa. Employers put in the working visa application the required salary and position but the reality is that the real salary and the real position are not given. Pinag-uusapan—ibang usapan.

There has been circumvention of the law in many fronts and always—always—the worker on a working visa is at the receiving end.

Think of the long years a worker on a working visa has to put in before an employee realizes of this injustice against him.

Sometimes, the worker-as-victim plays the role to the hilt: he begins to like the role of victim and tells himself: Kasi nga naman, kung hindi dahil sa kanya/kanila, di naman ako maliligal dito (Because were it not for them I would not have been able to come and work here legally).

Some employers even have the temerity and callousness to ask of their employees a renewal of the working visa before they take the first of the many steps to apply for the “green card” of their employees.

This arrangement gives the employer at least seven years to hold hostage the employee, making him work in accord with the terms and conditions of his working visa as agreed upon by them and not on what the law provides.

And if you change the characters of the employer-employee arrangement and make them Filipinos, we import here the arduous, untenable, and unjust negative value of that utang-na-loob that holds hostage the employee because he has to always think of that debt in all of his life—and forever: kung hindi dahil sa among Filipino at kaalyado pang bisor na Pinoy, hindi ako makakapagtrabaho ng ligal sa Amerika. (If not for the Filipino boss and his Pinoy supervisor, I would not have been able to legally work here in America.)

This utang-na-loob value, in this set-up, is a disvalue.

It is fundamentally unjust and we should say so.

It is also inhuman as it makes the worker on a working visa a modern-day slave.

Certainly, there are remedies to address the many abuses. But how much course of action is in the hands of the worker remains a question. In a new land, there is not much the worker can do. The terrain can be uneven—it is, in fact, uneven.

The family reunification concept in the immigration program of the US is also a thorny issue.

In the October 2005 visa bulletin of the Department of State, the waiting times for family-based immigration is 14 years for adult unmarried children of US citizens; four years for spouses and minor unmarried children of residents; nine years for adult unmarried children of residents; 15 years for married children of US citizens; and 22 years for siblings of US citizens.

The years and years of waiting can take its toll on families that have to constantly bridge the distance between them by the occasional phone call through a five-dollar phone card, the occasional email, the occasional pulvoron-as-padala from returning relatives, and the occasional balikbayan-box during special occasions.

The core of the family reunification component of the immigration program is self-explanatory—to unify families torn apart by the reality of immigration—and yet the long years of waiting precisely does the opposite. The long years of waiting set them apart, divide them, provide them the distance in time and place and memory—and relationships. Eventually, the result is a yawning gap between and among family members.

There is one thing that the immigrant community from Asia and the Pacific can do: lobby for the best provisions in the proposed bills—the provisions that respect the economic rights of the migrant worker and that assure families of reunification by cutting down on the waiting period.

Both these will bring about productivity in the workplace.

Both these will truly make the United States a nation among nations.

And the United States will benefit much from this.

Pub, INQ, V1N25, Dec 2005

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