by Steve Angeles, ABS-CBN North America Bureau

LOS ANGELES – With the immigration debate heating up and proposals being considered, many Filipinos here spent the weekend at an immigration workshop, trying to secure their citizenship and the current benefits for citizens.

More legal residents like Valentine Cuenca are applying for their U.S. citizenship. He was among hundreds that came to a citizenship workshop hosted by the Asian Pacific American Legal Center (APALC) in conjunction with the city of Los Angeles and the U.S.
Citizenship and Immigration Services.

“From time to time, year by year there are changes to immigration reform. That’s why for as long as I can today, I will finally make a filing,” Cuenca said.

“A lot of people are afraid they won’t be able to bring their family members here so the workshop has drawn a lot of folks out so that they can make sure that their family members can come,” Joyce Noche, APALC staff attorney, said.

Republican Senator Lindsey Graham last week proposed to limit the number of family-based petitions, while issuing more job-based visas, as one of the reforms to the country’s immigration laws.

Graham’s proposal runs counter to one specific provision that Asian American immigration advocates have been supporting; the quicker processing of family-based visas for Filipino immigrants and naturalized American citizens who wait an average of 20 or more years before they can reunite with family members in the U.S.

“Many of our Filipinos are here because of petitions by brothers and sisters, and those are closest family members. We believe immigration reform should make sure that families can stay together. So it’s important for people to come out and share their stories of how they came to the United States. To say if they came through a brother or sister and say how much they’ve contributed to the
United States,” Noche said.

Cuenca knows what the backlog is like. He waited 23 years to come to the United States. He eventually entered on a sibling visa.
Now that he’s been in the U.S. long enough to qualify for American citizenship, he doesn’t want to take any chances with immigration reform bill.

“I lost hope during that time, because for almost 20 years, I was waiting. I’ve been expecting that I’ll be coming here, now that I’m here I don’t want to make a delay for the application of my siblings, and my second wife, and four children from my first wife,” Cuenca said.

While the immigration overhaul is still being discussed, immigration advocates remind those waiting for the reform that no provisions are final yet. A clearer picture is expected next month when Congress is expected to have a bill.

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