Legally and otherwise, Filipinos among biggest groups in the U.S.

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February 5, 2013 by Noel Pangilinan

Consul-General Mario L. De Leon stresses a point during the interview for this article in New York City. PHOTO by Ramon Prado Mappala

Consul-General Mario L. De Leon stresses a point during the interview for this article.

Legally or otherwise, Filipinos are among the largest immigrant groups in the United States.

Last year, Filipinos were the third largest nationality group that acquired U.S. citizenship and the fourth biggest that were issued legal permanent resident (LPR) status, or what is more popularly known as green card, in the United States.

On the other end of the spectrum, however, Filipinos ranked fifth among nationalities with the most number of overstaying or undocumented immigrants.

These statistics were culled from a series of studies released by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Immigration Statistics (OSI) earlier this year.

Illegally bound

“It’s not surprising,” Consul General Mario L. De Leon of the Philippine Consulate in New York said. “You have a diaspora here, a big immigrant population. Chances of having those who are classified as irregular, or those who have overstayed, can be higher.”

The Department of Homeland Security placed the number of illegal-staying Filipinos at 280,000 as of 2010.

“I don’t dispute that. Those are statistics from Homeland Security,” De Leon said in a recent interview.

In February of this year, the OSI came out with a list of the top countries of origin of illegal immigrants in the United States. The Philippines was in the top five nations of origin of illegal aliens, commonly referred to by Filipinos in the U.S. as tago-nang tago (or TNT), which literally means in perpetual hiding. (Click to see Table 1)

Mexico was the biggest source of undocumented immigrants, with more than 6.6 million, followed by Central American countries El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras.

Puro Central or Latin American countries,” De Leon said referring to the top four countries ahead of the Philippines. The Philippines is the only country of origin of illegal immigrants in the top-five list where one would need to fly or sail to reach the U.S. mainland.

De Leon attributed the continuing tendency of Filipinos to stay illegally in the U.S. to the Filipinos’ strong family ties.

Tayo kasi, basta kapamilya, sinasabi natin ‘pumunta ka rito, kami nang bahala sa iyo (We tell our relatives ‘come here and we’ll take care of you).”

“In a way that encourages some to remain here even if they don’t have papers anymore,” he said.

Through the years, the number of overstaying Filipinos in the U.S. has grown steadily. In 2000, there were an estimated 200,000 unauthorized Filipinos in the U.S. That population grew by 40 percent during a 10-year span. In 2009, there were 270,000 Filipino TNTs in the U.S.

The OSI estimates that there are close to 10.8 million undocumented immigrants in the U.S. as of last year.

Green card equals greener pasture?

Consul-General Mario L. De Leon (left) leads Filipino U.S. citizens who have opted to reacquire their Filipino citizenship during swearing-in ceremonies at the Philippine Consulate in New York City in August.Photo by RAMON MAPPALA

Consul-General Mario L. De Leon (left) leads Filipino U.S. citizens who have opted to reacquire their Filipino citizenship during swearing-in ceremonies at the Philippine Consulate in New York City in August. Photo by RAMON MAPPALA

Also last year, a total of 93,000 Filipinos officially had their stay in the U.S. legalized, by acquiring either a green card or U.S. citizenship.

A green card is issued to those granted lawful permanent residence in the U.S. An LPR enjoys almost the same rights as a US citizen, except for one – the right to vote. A green card also provides an immigrant a path to acquiring a U.S. citizenship.

It is known informally as a green card because it had been green in color from 1946 until 1964. In May of last year, its color was changed back to green.

A total of 35,465 Filipinos were sworn in as new citizens of the United States by the Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS, formerly known as the INS) last year. Only Mexico and India have more nationals who were naturalized. (Click to see Table 2)

However, there were less Filipinos who acquired U.S. citizenships last year compared to 2009, when a total of 38,934 Filipinos were naturalized.

The 2010 figure represents a 9 percent drop from the previous year’s number.

Also last year, a total of 58,173 Filipinos were granted legal permanent resident status by the U.S. government. The Philippines ranked fourth in this category, behind Mexico, China and India. (Click to see Table 3)

The 2010 figure represents a 3 percent drop from the 2009 figure. A total of 60,029 Filipinos got their green cards in 2009.

“The realities of the recession and the financial crisis may have affected decisions of immigrants here in the U.S.,” De Leon said. “There are fewer opportunities here now than before. Meanwhile in Asia, we’re seeing unprecedented growth and expansion.”

Even illegals have rights

Compounding the illegal Filipino immigrants’ problem is their refusal to go to Philippine authorities and seek help.

“The problem is, those who are here illegally do not want to go to the Consulate,” said De Leon. “They believe that once they come in for help, they will be exposed. But the Consulate has nothing to do with your immigration status.”

De Leon said the Consulate provides consular services to all Filipinos regardless of immigration status. “We help them, as long as they come to us,” he said.

The Philippine Consulate in New York has been conducting a “Know Your Rights” seminar in cooperation with a group of Filipino American lawyers. So far, the Consulate has done seminars in New York and Philadelphia.

“It’s very important that Filipinos know that even though they are undocumented, they still have rights,” De Leon said. “Even those who are on working visas and not yet permanent residents, they may not be aware that they are already being abused. So it is important that they know their recourse.”

Where the Filipinos are

Earlier this year, the National Federation of Filipino American Associations (NaFFAA) said that based on the 2010 U.S. Population Census, there are now more than 2.5 million Filipinos in the U.S.

This figure is 38 percent higher than the 1.8 million Pinoys counted in the 2000 Census. The U.S. conducts a population census every 10 years.

The actual number of Filipinos in the U.S. is usually bigger than what appears on the U.S. Census. This is a result of the practice o Filipinos who are staying illegally in the U.S. to keep a low profile and avoid the Census.

The top 15 states with the biggest Filipino population, according to NaFFAA, are:

1. California,  1,195,580;

2. Hawaii,  197,497;

3. Illinois,  114,724;

4. New Jersey,  110,650;

5. New York,  104,287;

6. Texas,  103,074;

7. Nevada,  98,351;

8. Washington,  91,367;

9. Florida,  90,223;

10. Virginia,  66,963;

11. Maryland,  43,923;

12. Arizona,  35,013;

13. Michigan,  22,047;

14. Pennsylvania,  21,948 ;

15. Alaska,  19,394

(Originally posted on Sept. 20, 2011. Reprinted from

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