People often hurt those closest to them in ways they would not harm others.
It is not uncommon, psychologists suggest, for individuals to treat relative strangers with more cordiality and respect than their best friends and loved ones.
The same holds true in politics.
The Destructive Impact Of Typhoon Haiyan
When Typhoon Haiyan hit the Philippines on November 8, 2013, one of the United States’ closest allies suffered massive devastation.
It is estimated about 10,000 Filipinos lost their lives in the wake of the most powerful cyclone to ever hit land. The actual count may be higher.
Winds reaching 150 miles per hour whipped through the central Philippine Islands, including several densely populated and rural regions.
Four million people were dislocated. More than 12 million, living in some of the poorest provinces in the Philippines, were negatively affected.
Homes, businesses, schools, hospitals, and government buildings were destroyed. Residents were left without food or shelter, and reduced to homelessness.
The havoc extends beyond the Philippines.
The destruction affected most Filipinos living in the U.S., an immigrant community with strong ties to their homeland.
They escaped the physical harm. Not the human misery.
Thousands lost close family members. Countless others saw their own and their relatives’ lifetime homes and belongings destroyed. The tragedy is far from over.
Following the disaster, reports have confirmed:
- Cholera outbreaks and a variety of medical problems
- High unemployment, homelessness, and inadequate shelter
- Looting, lawlessness, and loss of light, heat, and electrical power
It would seem this combination of massive physical wreckage and potentially widespread contagious disease, coupled with a lack of work and the absence of law and order, support granting of temporary protected status to Filipinos.
In the past, such concerns have justified the designation of TPS for other nations which have experienced similar ordeals.
For instance, comparable problems emanating from natural disasters were the basis for grants of TPS for Honduras, Haiti, Nicaragua, and El Salvador.
This perspective is shared by New York Senator Charles Schumer. In his view, Filipino nationals living in the U.S. should be allowed to remain here while their typhoon-ravaged communities recover and rebuild.
In an interview with the Brooklyn Daily Eagle, Schumer said that granting TPS “is a compassionate and commonsense action that will remove a burden of worry from Filipino nationals legally residing here in the states whose visas may expire and may otherwise be required to return home.”
Unfortunately, like all things immigration, the decision to allow Filipinos temporary protected status is a matter of not only administrative law, but also political policy.
To Grant Or Not To Grant TPS?
A few weeks ago, news leaked that the State Department had completed their review of the situation in the Philippines. The analysis, according to the report, was forwarded to the Department of Homeland Security for a final decision.
In my view as a Riverside immigration attorney, this account is puzzling.
TPS decisions are usually made quickly. Long deliberations whether to grant or deny temporary protected status rarely happen.
Normally, affirmative grants are announced within a few weeks, allowing the relief measures to begin as soon as possible.
The longest time frame for issuance of a favorable decision was the Honduras TPS designation in 1999. The wait was nine weeks.
Additionally, TPS denials are not publicly made. As in the case of Pakistan TPS, the requests of hopeful beneficiaries just fade away over time.
Typhoon Haiyan took place in early November. This means the Filipino-American community has been waiting over four months for a decision by the Obama administration.
Although the news about the State Departments has fueled hopes of some Filipinos, it has subdued expectations of many others.
The Politics Of Filipino TPS Denial
So why would TPS for the Phillipines be denied?
According to diplomatic analyst Sonny Busa, the strength of the ties between the Philippines and the United States actually diminishes the need for President Obama to grant TPS benefits.
A denial of TPS, in other words, will not negatively damage the relationship between the allies.
Busa also stresses, unlike other nations granted TPS due to a natural disaster, the Philippines only suffered major losses in a “few provinces”.
He asserts the economic dislocation was not massive from a country-wide perspective, and the government was not left completely helpless to implement rehabilitative measures.
Last but not least, Busa underscores, in the midst of an election year, President Obama does not want to anger conservatives by granting relief to undocumented Filipinos numbering in the thousands.
Humanitarian TPS Relief Is Not A Numbers Game
My view, having handled many cases as a TPS lawyer, is straight forward. In grave matters concerning humanitarian assistance to other countries, politics should take a back seat.
This is especially true when the friend in need is, and has been, a loyal ally.
Like the Philippines.
Recently, a local organization of Haiyan survivors, “People Surge,” was formed to generate greater public support and spark effective relief efforts for local residents.
Led by a Catholic Nun, Sr. Edita Eslopor, the organization hopes to overcome the effects of neglect and abandonment upon local residents.
She states, “If you are in Tacloban now, with all the debris and piles of garbage around the city, you will think that the typhoon only happened yesterday.”
The National Alliance For Filipino Concerns (NAFCON), a national alliance of Filipino organizations and individuals in the United States, has also begun intensive community-based efforts to help rebuild the lives of more than thirteen million people adversely harmed by Typhoon Haiyan.
They highlight two omissions of mainstream news reports.
First, they point out most stories center on the harm to residents of cities like Tacloban. Yet, they claim worse damage has been imposed upon those living in poorer enclaves and rural areas in the Central Philippines region.
Second, they maintain the fallout from Typhoon Haiyan cannot be quickly mitigated. The areas hit the hardest experience typhoons every year. Hence, residents can expect more damage from new typhoons in the coming year. As a result, if enough relief is not quickly provided, matters will worsen.
Months after being hit by the storm, things are far from recovered.
Recently, an article posted on the NAFCON website examined the current situation facing Haiyan survivors:
“Reports from the ground depict homes, buildings, schools, town centers, and hospitals still smashed with materials scattered in every direction. Rows upon rows of people beg for food along the highways. Food, water and everything else are scarce. At night kerosene lamps illuminate heaps of scrap wood and tin roofs as makeshift shelters with people huddled for light, heat and consolation.”
Contrary to Busa, in terms of humanitarian relief, it does not matter whether the amount of people in need is four million or ten million.
Or whether the natural disaster is confined to parts of a country instead of the nation’s entire canvas.
Given the scope of problems facing real life individuals, temporary protected status for the Philippines is needed right now.
No political calculation, outside of pure callousness, can justify its denial.
By Carlos Batara, Immigration Law, Policy, And Politics