A successful Dialogue/Community Forum on Human and Labor Trafficking and Current Immigration Challenges with unexpected 65 attendees with MHC Co Exec Jesse Gatchalian, Minister JV Chan (Philippine Embassy), Philippine Commission on Human Rights Commissioners Leah Tanodra-Armamento and Karen Gomez Dumpit, Ms. Jenny Hona-Davis (MHC Legal Program Specialist), MHC Volunteer Resource lawyers, Attys: Frances Lim & Kristine Tungol, Myrna Cacho MHC Consultant on Non Profit Management, Carl Abella, MHC Envoy, Vickie Navarro PHC Chairperson & Nikkie Navarro Mhc Envoy & Emcee/Moderator. (Grace S. Valera, MHC Co-Executive Director, not in the picture) — with Leah Tanodra-Armamento, Karen Gomez Dumpit and Nikkie Navarro.
FAIRFAX, Virginia — The forum on “Human and Labor Trafficking and Current Immigration Challenges,” organized by the Migrant Heritage Commission (MHC), discussed immigration rights and options under U.S. laws, providing hope to undocumented Filipinos, as well as victims of human and labor trafficking and domestic abuse by U.S. citizen spouses.
The community dialogue, held on a Sunday (March 19), drew an unexpected crowd of 65 Filipinos and Filipino-Americans, who came from the D.C. area, Virginia and Maryland; New York, West Virginia and Pennsylvania.
It took place at the Law Offices of Valera and Associates, PC, in this county, some 15 miles from Washington, D.C.
The program lasted three hours, which included a progress report from MHC (www.mhc.org) and visiting Philippine Commission on Human Rights (CHR) officials, testimonies from victims of human trafficking and domestic abuse, and a lengthy Q and A.
An information sheet from the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA), “Know Your Rights: If ICE Visits Your Home,” referring to Immigration and Customs Enforcement, was among the hand-outs at the forum.
“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,” remarked MHC Executive Director Arnedo S. Valera, an immigration lawyer for 25 years.
He is also inviting the community to join the MHC Delegation on May 6 at the National Mall in Washington, D.C. to celebrate National Immigrants Day.
Special guests were Philippine Commissioners Leah C. Tanodra-Armamento and Karen S. Gomez Dumpit, who attended last year’s forum.
They came here after attending a United Nations meeting in New York.
MHC, a nonprofit, non-governmental organization, and CHR signed a memorandum in 2015, establishing a partnership in promoting human rights.
The commissioners said they looked forward to working with MHC in solidarity for the Filipino-American community, adding, “Let’s all thank Atty. Valera for his commitment.”
Commissioner Armamento of the Philippine Commission on Human Rights noted the forum was timely, citing the current immigration challenges faced by Filipinos in the U.S.
“We are concerned that Filipinos will be subjected to discrimination, harassment and abuses,” she added.
“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.
Last year, the commissioners listened at an MHC forum to area human trafficking victims’ complaints and made recommendations to Philippine labor agencies, and also submitted reports to the U.S. Department of Labor.
“The U.S. Department of Labor asked to meet with us on March 21,” said Commissioner Armamento.
“But we are scheduled to fly to California for another community forum.”
Jose Victor Gonzaga, Philippine embassy minister of economic affairs, was among the speakers.
He said the embassy and consulates stand ready to provide assistance to Filipino nationals everywhere.
The embassy here has an emergency hotline, (202) 368-2767, to help Filipinos in need.
Minister Gonzaga also urged visiting or working Filipinos to attend the pre-departure orientation seminars in the Philippines, and to register with the Philippine embassy or consulate overseas upon their arrival, as well as join community organizations which, he said, can provide other resources and assistance.
In his remarks, Valera stressed that U.S. laws offer protections to victims of human trafficking and other violations.
He said for 2016, MHC and his law office assisted and reunited 55 Filipinos, including their family members under the T-and T3’s nonimmigrant visa program.
The principal applicants lost their immigration status and became undocumented when they became human and labor trafficking victims.
Currently, MHC is helping 55 additional victims.
A T-visa gives temporary nonimmigrant status to victims of severe forms of human or labor trafficking.
MHC also assisted 15 undocumented who were victims of violent crimes like robbery, aggravated assault and other crimes, which qualified them for U-nonimmigrant visas; and also six Filipino women and nine other nationalities in acquiring special immigrant visas under the Violence Against Women Act or VAWA.
He said they have also helped Filipino nurses subjected to an onerous and one-sided provision in their employment contract.
Under said contract, they are required to pay the amount of liquidated damages, ranging from $20,000 to $50,000, if they decide to prematurely terminate their contract.
Valera said the U.S. laws underscore what truly makes this country great.
“America’s fundamental values of equality, justice and fairness and, yes, human decency. History shows that whenever this national character was in peril — as the civil rights movement showed — men and women of courage reminded America of the basic principles that have made this country great,” said Valera.
The testimonies of a human trafficking victim and a victim of domestic violence by a U.S. citizen husband was a compelling part of the program.
MHC Legal Resources Program Specialist Jenny H. Davis presented the testimony participants.
Valera and MHC resource person, lawyer Frances Claire C. Garcia, gave comprehensive answers to all questions.
Other resource persons were Myrna Gimena Cacho, International Fellow at the City of New York University (CUNY) Center on Philanthropy and Civil Society, who came all the way from New York; and Vicky Navarro, director of the Philippine Humanitarian Coalition and a former president of the Philippine Nurses Association of America.
Remarked Valera: “In these challenging times, people need reassurance that they are not alone. Please remember, the Migrant Heritage Commission is always there to help. We all belong to the Migrant Family. United in our common heritage, we are also connected through our shared immigrant experience. So, please think of the MHC as an open door, where everyone in need is always welcome as family. And remember, this door is always open to those in need of a helping hand.”
He also quoted the late President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s famous exhortation during the recession and World War II: “The only thing to fear is fear itself.”
He urged all migrants to face the future with courage and confidence.
“Together, MHC and the Migrant Family have overcome major challenges in recent past — remember? We can prevail again. We have made so much progress all these years that we are never stepping back. So let this be our guiding light: Moving Forward Together! After all, America is, and will always be, a Nation of Immigrants.”
MHC presented plaques of appreciation to the special guests at the conclusion of the program, which was emceed by Youth Envoy Nikkie Navarro, who also sang the anthems.
MHC Envoy for Unity & Service Carl Abella delivered the invocation.
MHC Co-Executive Director Jesse A. Gatchalian gave the closing remarks.
Documentation was handled by Dennis Hona, Raymund Valera, Leonardus Soeharto, photographer Manny Lopez Jr. and Bong Aznar (video).