The National Federation of Filipino American Associations (NaFFAA) is calling on the U.S. Congress once again to pass the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act, commonly known as the DREAM Act. Recently reintroduced in the US Senate on May 11, 2011, the measure passed in the U.S. House of Representatives last year, but failed in the U.S. Senate.
The bill would provide conditional permanent residency to illegal alien students who graduate from US high schools, are of good moral character, and have been in the country continuously for at least five years prior to the bill’s enactment if they complete two years in the military or two years at a four year institution of higher learning.
NaFFAA’s renewed call to get the bill passed comes in the heels of today’s announcement by Jose Antonio Vargas, a Filipino undocumented immigrant. In a New York Times essay, “My Life as an Undocumented Immigrant,” which appeared in today’s online edition, Vargas discloses his own status as an “illegal alien.” He writes: “My story does not exist in a vacuum. I am only one of the countless undocumented immigrants from all walks of life who live in the shadow of our failed and broken system.”
Vargas, a Pulitzer-prize winner when he was a staff writer in the Washington Post, has also announced the launching of “Define American” campaign, an organization he co-founded which is dedicated to changing the conversation about immigrants in America. The campaign will “build off Vargas’ story to provide a platform for others to share their own backgrounds and will encourage members of Congress and the Obama administration to prioritize immigration reform.”
“Approximately 40-44 percent of the undocumented student population in the Asian community are Filipino students,” says NaFFAA National Chairman Eduardo Navarra. “They are among hundreds of committed activists whose tireless energy and relentless advocacy made last year’s historic vote possible. Their courage in speaking out and telling their stories made a big difference in moving this legislation forward. “
Navarra commends Vargas for coming forward, own up to what he has done and tell his own story.
“As a national organization, we completely support Jose’s personal advocacy to get the DREAM Act passed,” adds Navarra. “I urge all Filipino Americans to play an active role in getting Congress to act on this measure this year. Tens of thousands of students who came to the U.S. without legal status would benefit from passage of this act.”
“The case of Jose Antonio Vargas and thousands of fellow DREAMers like him is no longer a mere legal issue; it has become a compelling moral issue which needs to be addressed,” declares J.T. Mallonga, NaFFAA’s national vice chair and a New York immigration attorney. He heads the Filipino American Legal Defense and Education Fund (FALDEF), which is advising Vargas on his legal options.
According to his own account, Vargas was 12 years old when he was “smuggled” by an uncle into the United States with a “fake name and fake passport.” He learned that he was an “illegal alien” when, at 16, he tried to apply for a Driver’s License. He kept his undocumented status a secret so he could study and pursue a career in journalism. “I convinced myself that seeing my name in bold print, exploring my country and the people around me, validated my right to be here,” he writes. Last year, he read about four students who walked from Miami to Washington to lobby for the DREAM Act. “At the risk of deportation, they are speaking out,” he writes. “Their courage has inspired me.”