Cover Photo: photo via bellevuewashington/flickr
photo via bellevuewashington/flickr

“Hiding and Hiding”: Undocumented Filipinx Americans Living in the Shadows

“Even though the Philippines is where I’m from, I’m American.”

When I was a child, my mother dispensed informal legal advice at family get-togethers. Seated in a plastic lawn chair with a paper plate in her lap, she demystified immigration policy for many a rapt audience. She isn’t a lawyer.

At the time I simply assumed, as children do, that my mother knew everything. Years later, I realized that she honed her legal expertise out of necessity. I was two years old when she and I immigrated to the United States from Olongapo, Philippines; her careful legal navigation helped my dad enter the US and reunite our family. When people in our community find their residency status compromised, they often turn to my mother for help.

Your sister, is she still . . . ?hiding and hiding

In this article, names and other identifying information have been changed to protect the privacy and safety of those who spoke with me. That said, in order to provide a nuanced look at an issue that is often oversimplified, I will not spare legal details. Understanding the issues central to these immigrants’ narratives is a crucial step toward a more informed, humane understanding of immigration policies and needed reforms.

The Making of Asian America

applied for a single-entry B-2 tourist visa, and in 2000, when she was twenty-six years old, the visa arrived.

Ivy flew to California with one suitcase and four hundred dollars in her possession. With her education and experience, she found a hospital that offered to file an I-14o immigrant visa for her. The I-140, called the Immigrant Petition for Alien Worker, allows an employer to petition for a worker to become a permanent resident.

But with their sons thriving and Jerome making a modest income, the path to the American Dream seemed within the family’s reach.

So of course Jerome and Mariel were caught off-guard when their immigration lawyer disappeared. The lawyer had promised to facilitate the family’s paperwork and charged exorbitant legal fees. Now the family was left with depleted resources and no legal support in a race against time.

That was only their first try.

Luckily, Mariel had found work at a restaurant that sponsored her for an H-1B and H-4 visas for her family.

They made it for another few years. Then the restaurant filed for bankruptcy in 2009, and Mariel lost her sponsorship. Their visas expired. After nearly ten years of doing everything right, Jerome, Mariel, and their sons were officially TNT.


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Everyday Illegal

The glib simplicity with which Trump presents these arguments is both harmful and deceptive. There is not “one core issue” in immigration, but many challenging and intersecting ones that powerfully affect human lives.

A discourse that commodifies and dehumanizes immigrants leads to the laziest of non-solutions and does nothing to advance humane policy. If we acknowledge America’s complicity in migration and imperialism and interrogate the impact of our country’s policies and actions on real people’s lives, it may yet be possible to create lasting solutions and reforms. No matter what we do, millions of undocumented people will remain—hiding and hiding in the shadow of our nation’s collective, willful ignorance.

Pia Ceres is a recent grad of Brown University, but her Filipinx immigrant household in Southern California was where she learned to be gutsy and relentless. She works in Silicon Valley and continues to write about immigration, the arts, and being a humanities girl in a computer science world. Follow her on Twitter: @lapiaenrose