Why Fil-Ams should care about the 2020 Elections

By Jason Tengco

In 2016, only 50 percent of eligible Filipino American voters participated in the presidential election. Let me repeat: only half of us voted in 2016.

As a community, we can — and must — do better this time around. From the economy to health care, climate change to the Supreme Court, there’s simply too much at stake for us to sit on the sidelines.

As we gear up for the 2020 elections, I urge my fellow Fil-Ams to pay close attention to what the candidates are saying around all issues, but especially immigration.

Let me start with the facts. There are more than 300,000 Filipinos in the Philippines waiting to reunite with their loved ones here in the United States. These include wives and husbands, daughters and sons, and sisters and brothers that are separated from their families. The Philippines has the second highest number of family-sponsored waiting list registrants in the world, second only to Mexico. Furthermore, Filipinos suffer some of the longest wait times of any group: more than 20 years.

In addition to family reunification, we cannot forget that there are an estimated 310,000 undocumented Filipinos living in America. These include more than 5,000 young Filipinos that have benefitted from Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), giving them work authorization and protection from deportation. A separate Obama Administration proposal called Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents (DAPA) would have granted similar protections to certain undocumented parents, but was rescinded by the current administration.

As we head into another contentious presidential election cycle, there is plenty of talk on both sides of the aisle about the need for comprehensive immigration reform. Let’s begin by looking at the campaign websites of the four Democratic candidates currently polling the highest: Joe Biden, Kamala Harris, Elizabeth Warren, and Bernie Sanders.

    • Biden focuses on pursuing “a humane immigration policy that upholds our values, strengthens our economy, and secures our border.”
    • Harris commits to “fight to pass immigration reform with a pathway to citizenship for the 11 million people living in our communities and contributing to our economy.”
    • Warren highlights that “we need expanded legal immigration that will grow our economy, reunite families, and meet our labor market demands.”
    • Sanders emphasizes the need to “expand DACA and DAPA, including providing immediate legal status for young people eligible for the DACA program.”

In comparison, Trump’s website details how:

    • “President Trump called on Congress to fully fund a wall along the Southern border, to close legal loopholes that enable illegal immigration, to end chain migration, and to eliminate the visa lottery program.”
    • “The Department of Homeland Security took action to wind down the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program in an orderly fashion, following the assessment of the Department of Justice (DOJ) that DACA lacks legal authorization.”
    • “The Trump Administration rescinded the unlawful Deferred Action for Parents of Americans (DAPA) program.”

As the candidates begin campaigning and participating in debates, we should hold them accountable by demanding specifics about their immigration plans. It’s incumbent upon us to remain informed and to have honest conversations about how these proposals will impact us as a community.

But no matter where we stand politically, I think we can all agree that these presidential candidates should keep the interests of the Fil-Am community in mind both on the campaign trail and, if elected, once they occupy the highest office in the land.

Jason Tengco is a Senior Advisor and former Executive Director of the National Federation of Filipino American Associations (NaFFAA). He is currently pursuing his Master’s in Public Affairs (MPA) at the University of California, Berkeley’s Goldman School of Public Policy. Views and opinions expressed by the author in this column are solely those of the author and not of the Asian Journal, NaFFAA, and UC Berkeley.

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