By CESAR NUCUM, JR.
FAIRFAX (Virginia) — A discussion on current immigration challenges was held recently by A Virginia-based immigration and human rights group where the rights and other options of Filipinos caught in current policies of the new administration were discussed. The event, attended by Filipinos coming from Washington D.C., Virginia and Maryland, New York, West Virginia and Pennsylvania took place at the Law Offices of Valera and Associates, PC, some 15 miles from Washington, D.C. Dubbed the forum on “Human and Labor Trafficking and Current Immigration Challenges,” organized by the Migrant Heritage Commission (MHC), the attendees talked about immigration rights and options under U.S. laws, providing hope to undocumented Filipinos as well as to victims of human and labor trafficking and domestic abuse by U.S. citizen spouses. The program included a progress report from MHC and visiting Philippine Commission on Human Rights (CHR) officials on what their agencies have accomplished in the past year and on the current tasks. The large audience also heard testimonies from victims of human trafficking and domestic abuse. An information sheet from the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA), “Know Your Rights: If ICE Visits Your Home” was distributed. “This forum is part of a series of dialogues which serves as a channel for open communication to protect immigrant rights, as well as provide concrete options for undocumented immigrants under U.S. laws,” said MHC Executive Director Arnedo Valera who also invited the community to join the MHC delegation on May 6 at the National Mall in Washington, D.C. to celebrate National Immigrants Day. In 2016, the MHC offered protections to victims of human trafficking and other violations aside from assisting and reuniting 55 Filipinos, who were human and labor trafficking victims, with their family members under the T-and T3’s non-immigrant visa program. T-visa gives temporary nonimmigrant status to victims of severe forms of human or labor trafficking. Special guests Philippine CHR Commissioners Leah C. Tanodra- Armamento and Karen S. Gomez Dumpit, came to the forum after attending a United Nations meeting in New York. MHC, a nonprofit, nongovernmental organization, and CHR signed a memorandum in 2015, establishing a partnership in promoting human rights. The commissioners lauded the commitment of MHC for the Filipino victims of human rights in the area and looked forward to working with MHC in solidarity with the Filipino American community. The forum was timely amid the current immigration challenges faced by Filipinos in the U.S. “We are concerned that Filipinos will be subjected to discrimination, harassment and abuses,” Armamento noted. “Our mandate as watchdogs is to call for the protection of human rights and dignity of all Filipinos everywhere, by documenting incidents and making recommendations to appropriate Philippine agencies and meeting with overseas government agencies on the CHR reports of incidents.” Dumpit was also in last year’s MHC forum to hear human trafficking victims’ complaints and submitted recommendations to Philippine labor agencies, as well as reports to the U.S. Department of Labor. Philippine embassy minister of economic affairs Jose Victor Gonzaga, who was among the speakers, urged visiting or working Filipinos to attend the pre-departure orientation seminars in the Philippines. “Register with the Philippine embassy or consulate overseas upon your arrival, as well as join community organizations, which can provide other resources and assistance,” Gonzaga told them. “The embassy and consulates stand ready to provide assistance to Filipino nationals everywhere.”