Rally pushes for full TPS for Filipinos in US

By Jon Melegrito

Demonstrators stage a “Die-In” to dramatize the death toll and destruction inflicted by Typhoon Haiyan.

WASHINGTON, DC – Rosalina Cionelo, a 70-year-old housekeeper in Manhattan, New York, says she has worked and lived in the shadows for 17 years without protection.

“It is a very difficult and stressful job and every day I worry that I will be questioned, arrested or deported just because I work here in the U.S. to survive and help my family back in the Philippines.”

On April 25, Cionelo joined nearly 100 domestic workers, activists, immigration rights advocates, students and community leaders who came from all over the country to rally in front of the White House and renew their push for temporary protected status (TPS) for undocumented Filipino immigrants.

Out in the open, Cionelo spoke with emotion about why TPS is an urgent personal matter to her.

“As a hardworking and peace-loving Filipino immigrant in the U.S., I am asking for TPS so I can travel to the Philippines and help my suffering family recover from the storm,” she said.

“But I need a guarantee that I will be allowed re-entry to the U.S. so I can continue working and earn as much as I can to support my seven siblings and 15 nephews and nieces. They are depending on me.”

Cionela said that her house in Barangay San Jose in Leyte, where his youngest brother and his family live, was totally washed away by Typhoon Haiyan. His brother and another sibling also lost their source of livelihood when the storm destroyed their grocery store, a piggery and a crop of mahogany and coconut trees.

“I’m not sure how I can help them rebuild and help my siblings’ families get back on their feet,” Cionela said. “I only know that I have to work even harder as a housekeeper.”

Timed two days before President Obama’s scheduled visit to Manila, the rally participants want it publicly known that a strong endorsement from both governments and equally strong support from the American and Filipino communities in both countries are needed to secure full temporary protected status (TPS) to the Philippines.

“It’s been more than five months after the strongest storm to ever hit landfall, and millions of people have yet to be resettled,” declared Aquilina Soriano, coordinator of the Relief 2 Recovery Coalition, which organized the national movement in early November.

“We are not giving up until full TPS is granted. We urge the U.S. to continue all forms of humanitarian aid to the Philippines, including TPS, because this is another form of assistance that is critical to the long-term recovery of the country.”

Soriano also called on the Filipino American community to “contact your friends and relatives in the Philippines and tell them to keep up the pressure on Obama. We have to keep the issue of full recovery alive, both here and abroad, and keep reminding Washington that the crisis is not over.”

During the hour-and-a-half long rally, demonstrators marched in a circle waving banners, chanted “TPS Now,” sang “Bayan Ko,” and staged a “die-in” to dramatize the destruction inflicted by Typhoon Haiyan and the plight of Filipinos who are still struggling to rebuild their lives.

Several participants dropped to their knees and silently lay on their backs, holding pictures of the devastation and signs illustrating the grim aftermath: 6,300 dead, 1,061 missing, 28,689 injured.

National organizations participating in the rally included the ANSWER Coalition, Damayan Migrant Workers Association of New York, DREAM Action Coalition, Filipino Advocates for Justice (FAJ) based in Oakland, KAYA Filipino Americans for Progress, the LA-based Pilipino Workers Center, the American Coalition of Filipino Veterans (ACFV), US Pinoys for Good Governance (USPGG), the National Council of Asian Pacific Americans (NCAPA) and the National Federation of Filipino American Associations (NaFFAA).

Also joining the rally were dozens of Latino workers from Arizona and New Orleans. “We stand in solidarity with you because we have a common cause in stopping the deportation of families,” said Alfred Carrera of the New Orleans Workers Centers for Racial Justice. “We are part of your fight to keep families from being torn apart.”

Lillian Galedo, FAJ executive director, pointed out that the fight is not just for Filipinos “but for all vulnerable communities across the country and the world. Poor countries are bearing the brunt of these storms and typhoons, and these will continue unless we also address the issue of climate change. The U.S. and other industrialized nations must take responsibility and find ways to minimize the impact of these natural disasters.”

Ben de Guzman of KAYA encouraged the participants to keep on fighting and not hold back. “We have strong support from U.S. Senators, U.S. Representatives, public officials, civil rights leaders and faith-based communities,” he said.

“That’s because in the last five months we have been relentless in sending out letters and E-mails, making personal visits and phone calls and letting our voices heard. Let’s continue to call DHS and get this done,” de Guzman added.

Organizers remain confident that a favorable decision will be announced soon.

“I’m praying very hard,” said Cionelo, who joined Damayan four years ago. “Being part of this movement has given me strength and courage, and a reason to hope.”