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Filipino Americans: The Future of Immigration Policy?

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ASPA as an organization.

By Parker Riggs
February 28, 2017

Immigration is a controversial issue. For many, they either favor open borders, or want to close the borders and kick those who are not here legally out. Since President Trump has been elected, the side that wants to close the borders seems to be winning the policy war. A border wall is being planned across our southern border, and a travel ban against specific Muslim countries has been signed, implemented and eventually stopped by federal courts. These actions have caused millions to protest; not only in the United States, but also across the world. The way the country is moving is scaring a lot of our citizens who are here legally and illegally. One group that is watching U.S. immigration policy is Filipino-Americans.

Filipino-Americans are the second largest Asian-American group with a population of over 3.8 million. Filipinos have been coming to the United States for many years. History has shown they were even here before the country gained independence from Great Britain. They came to work on fishing boats in Washington, worked in the fields in Hawaii and California, and even worked with the fur trade in Alaska years before it was even a state. While they have been a part of the history of the United States for many years, they have had their share of hardships. Many Filipinos were discriminated against because they worked for lower wages and this discrimination followed them. Many places in states like California didn’t even allow Filipinos to come inside.

While Filipinos began to immigrate to the United States as hard laborer’s, the same cannot be said for the generations that have been coming to this country since the 1960’s. In a survey conducted by the Pew Research Center, Filipinos have the highest percentage of adults with a bachelor’s degree or higher. According to the survey, 39 percent of Filipinos have a bachelor’s degree and eight percent have advanced degrees. This is astounding when only 29 percent of other Asian-American groups have a bachelor’s degree and the percentage of the U.S. population with a bachelor’s degree is 18 percent. Along with the level of education, Filipinos also have a larger average of median household income. The median household income for Filipinos is $78,000 compared to $49,800 for the U.S. population.

Filipinos come to this country looking for a better life. They come here to work and with what little money they have leftover they send it back home to help their families have a better life as well. This is not just true with Filipinos in the United States. Keith McNamara and Jeanne Batalova, stated in their article “Filipino Immigrants in the United States,” Filipinos, out of all knepperimmigrant groups, had the largest number of individuals in the civilian labor force. Over 69 percent of Filipinos over the age of 16 were working. Compared to 63 percent of all other immigrants in the workforce and 67 percent of native-born citizens. This work ethic started from the early Filipino immigrants and still continues till today. It is because of this need to work and take care of oneself and their family that has helped many Filipinos in the United States out of poverty. In the same article by Keith McNamara and Jeanne Batalova, they note only a small number of Filipinos lived in poverty in the United States. Only seven percent of Filipinos lived in poverty, compared to 19 percent of other immigrants and 15 percent of native-born citizens that live in poverty.

All of this information shows Filipinos, like many other immigrant groups, come here to seek a better life. They come here to find work and support themselves and their family. Filipinos are not just coming to this country to be laborers, they are coming armed with bachelor’s degrees and Masters’ degrees. You will see them working in hospitals, hotels, office buildings and even as politicians. They are what make this country great and I believe they will soon be a driving force in how this country implements immigration policy. In one of President Trump’s early speeches, he mentioned the Philippines as one of the countries he might stop allowing immigrants from to protect the country from terrorist attacks. While he has since changed this notion, it does not stop Filipinos across the country from being scared it might change again in the future.

Filipinos have a strong sense of family. That is one of the reasons they immigrate to find work. If President Trump decides one day to add the Philippines to his list of countries in the travel ban, he may awaken a force he will not be able to stop. The Filipino population is very large in California with a population of over one million. As the popular saying goes, “As California goes, so goes the nation.” If the Filipino-American community comes together in California to fight for an immigration policy that benefits not only themselves but all immigrants across the United States, it could turn the tide against the current leadership in Washington.

Author: Parker Riggs, Future Public Servant, First Year MPA Student at Augusta University. 

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