Hope To Pinoy TNT's
By Ernesto G. Ramos, Ph.D.
It seems as though the long nightmare would soon end for thousands
of Filipino undocumented aliens, aka as TNTs (tago ng tago), who
have been living furtively and working clandestinely in the United
Mere mention of immigration agents from the offices of Immigration
and Customs Enforcement, Customs and Border Patrol or Detention and
Removal would strike fear and trepidation into the hearts of
countless kababayan, whose tortured lives all these years have been
as legendary as those manongs who immigrated to the United States
many years ago.
To the rescue comes U.S. Senator John McCain, a Republican moderate
from Arizona, former Vietnam war hero and POW, who himself is vying
for the U.S. presidency in 2008. Together with U.S. Senator Ted
Kennedy, a liberal Democrat from Massachusetts, this rather strange
duo is pushing through their historic bill, S. 1033, entitled
"Secure America And Orderly Immigration Act." Other bills have been
proposed by other senators, but the McCain-Kennely bill has become
the catalyst for undergirding a genuine immigration overhaul.
What is very promising about this bill is that it enjoys bipartisan
support from both Republicans and Democrats. Its companion bill in
the House of Representatives, HR 2330, is sponsored by Congressmen
Jim Kolbe, Republican from Arizona's 8th District, Luis Gutierrez,
Democrat from Illinois' 4th District, and Kendrick Meek, Democrat
from Florida's 17th District.
Wanting to get a glimpse of the event and file a report for Basta
Pinoy News, I was positioned as an ad-hoc interpreter during Senator
McCain's early evening town hall meeting held at the Miami Dade
College's campus in downtown Miami last February 23. The crowd was a
real mixture of South Florida's citizens, immigrants, and would-be
immigrants. Others came dubbed pejoratively by strict immigration
officials as illegals, while immigration lawyers would rather
characterize them as undocumented. Sitting immediately behind the
senator and my boss, Congressman Meek, Ranking Member of the US
Dept. of Homeland Security's Management, Integration & Oversight, I
translated into English the cogent statements and stirring plight of
South Florida's Spanish-, Portuguese- and Creole-speaking residents,
who were sharing with both McCain and Meek the desire to carve their
share of the American dream.
Seating on the stage was a bevy of leaders from South Florida's
immigrant community consisting of virtually every country of Central
America and South America, the Caribbean nations, and yes, the
Philippines. They symbolized America's ordinary workers and their
families, who were trying hard to play by the rules and pay the
price to put a stake on America's soil. They came, they said,
seeking the promise of Lady Liberty:
"Send me your tired -- your poor
Your huddled masses
yearning to breathe free
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these - the storm-tossed,
homeless -- to me
I leave my lamp beside the Golden Door."
To make good this promise was Senator McCain, who has taken on the
task of dictating and shaping a historic debate in the halls of the
Senate to deal head-on with the challenge of legalizing some
11-million-plus illegals and undocumented aliens, most of them
coming from Mexico, our southern neighbor. He unveiled the basics of
this bill before a standing-room only crowd -- namely, a realistic
comprehensive immigration and border security legislation, payment
of a $2,000 penalty fee, application for a 6-yar temporary status,
opportunity to have a job under a guest-worker visa via a qualified
worker-willing employer arrangement, pay taxes and demonstrate an
understanding of the U.S. government.
But they will have to wait to get permanent legal status until after
some 3-million aliens currently awaiting legal entry get theirs.
"There is no moving to the front of the line, there is no free
ticket," quipped co-sponsor Kennedy. "This is simply not amnesty."
Of course, we Filipinos have added our own unique variation to the
mix by calling these illegals and undocumented aliens as TNTs (Tago
ng Tago), euphemistically translated as "always hiding" in the
underground world of America's barrios and urban enclaves. There is
no accurate number of these TNTs, but some say they number in the
low 150,000 and in the high 250,000 who managed to linger on for a
20-year period since the 1986 amnesty law came into being and went
They represent mainly tourists from our birth country, who decided
to stay put in America's urban areas long after their visitor's
visas had ended. They may well be our entrepreneurial young men and
women desirous of upgrading their skills and knowledge by enrolling
in America's institutions of higher learning via the acquisition of
student's visas whose expiration dates may have run their course or
applicants simply forgot to renew them. They are also those who
jumped ship at the end of their contract with their cruiseline
agents, or they may well be the contract workers in hotel and
construction industries and health care facilities, and their
employers either folded up their operation and left them on the
lurch, or no longer needed their services.
Some may simply be staying on as the unwelcomed guests of distant
relatives who are now naturalized citizens, or they may be the
boyfriends and girlfriends of U.S. citizens and/or immigrants, whose
love for them may have gone sour and did not have any compunction in
discarding them pronto like an unwanted baggage.
Or sadly enough, there may be those Filipinas languishing in utter
limbo and suffering in virtual silence, having left their US-citizen
or "green-card" spouses because they could no longer tolerate the
abject humility from them, or because they have been battered
incessantly by physical and economic dislocation, moral and
psychological abuse with no one else to turn to, not knowing that
battered spouses can now file for themselves under the far-reaching
protection of a federal law fittingly called the Violence Against
Women's Act (VAWA) of 2000.
Among these are millions of aliens who have created an underground
population replete with an underground economy. They come and go,
and work in ungodly hours, doing everything and anything asked of
them by unscrupulous employers who take advantage of their
undocumented, illegal status. Their "take-it or leave-it" situation
has demonized America's underground workforce, subjecting them to a
modern kind of virtual slavery, succumbing to an "under the table"
salary arrangement that is far below America's minimum wage.
These are America's faceless workers - millions of them, working and
living in the shadows of the world's richest and most powerful
nation. They starkly evoke the hypocrisy of America on one hand, and
the degradation of human dignity on the other. It is on their behalf
that the McCain/Kennedy immigration reform is now being debated and
discussed in the august Senate chamber. While members of Congress
would shy away from a mere mention of the word "amnesty," they
however symbolize the utmost dilemma that has torn asunder the
value-system of American society and our covenant with the rest of
world as a "…nation under God - with Liberty and Justice for all."
Thanks to the dynamic McCain-Kennedy duo and the incessant urging of
American business groups, this anathema of a theme called
"immigration reform" is now finding its rightful place in the
Congress. Conversely, however, it's no thank-you to the likes of
Congressman Tom Tancredo, Republican from Colorado's 6th District,
and his cohorts of apologists and ultra-conservatives, America as
our cherished "Land of the free and Home of the brave" cannot and
must not be fenced in from the rest of the world by building a
massive and expensive thousand-mile wall from its southern borders.
America would be better off spending these billions of dollars
toward the construction of new schools, replacing old dilapidated
ones in America's urban areas, or fund the health insurance of
countless uninsured Americans who cannot afford them, or defray the
prescription drugs of America's burgeoning elderly population whose
meager funds often force them to choose between buying their
medicine or their food.
China resorted to this gimmick centuries ago by building a wall
around it, and keeping it from the onslaughts of the pagan
uncivilized world. Ironically, that ancient culture was relegated to
the ignorance of the dark ages. Until it opened itself up to the
spirit of capitalism and entrepreneurship not too long ago, China is
now a nation to be reckoned with. Likewise, Germany built a wall
that separated itself from its citizens, dividing them into East and
West sides of the nation and isolating them from each other under
the cloak of a Soviet-dominated communism. In the same fashion,
during the mid-80s that wall came tumbling down, and now Germany has
taken its rightful place among the world's more successful
As discussions on immigration reform continue to focus on a guest
worker program and find ways to legalize America's undocumented
population, the Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Arlen Specter
(Republican of Pennsylvania), has spearheaded earnest debates last
Thursday, March 2nd on the topics of border enforcement, interior
enforcement, the unlawful employment of aliens, the nonimmigrant and
immigrant visa reform, backlog reduction, conditional nonimmigrant
workers, and immigration litigation reduction. It has also initiated
spirited discussions on a temporary worker program under the
auspices of Senator Kennedy and Senator Cornyn (Republican of
Texas), as well as Senator Grassley's (Republican of Iowa) proposal
on developing a border entry/exit system for all aliens coming to
and from the United States.
Senator Orrin Hatch (Republican of Utah) filed a novel amendment to
the Senate immigration reform that would require a study on
licensing private employment agencies to issue guest worker visas.
Whether or not idealistic and pragmatic amendments would strengthen
or weaken the Senate's ongoing immigration overhaul, the fact of the
matter remains that Senators McCain and Kennedy have staked their
refutation and opened the door for an honest-to-goodness immigration
reform discussion. Suffice it to say that the 17-member Senate
Judiciary Committee (9 Republicans and 8 Democrats) is now coming to
take on the challenge of an immigration reform.
In the end, it is truly ironic that the fate of 11-million illegals
or undocumented aliens - along with the thousands of Pinoy TNTs -
living in the United States is totally dependent upon the judgment
of a small bunch of Senators.
What an awesome task these Senators have taken on their shoulders.
But such is the onus of American Democracy that the future of so
many rests upon the decision of a few. We hope and pray that -- come
Monday, March 27 in the year of Our Lord 2006 - these Senators would
render a wise judgment to benefit America and the world and that
their colleagues in the House would follow suit.
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