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The challenges I faced while trying to report on undocumented Filipino children

The challenges I faced while trying to report on undocumented Filipino children

Picture of Harvey Barkin
[Photo by James Brooks via Flickr.]

It was a story waiting to be told. In May 2016, full-scope Medi-Cal coverage was granted by the California Department of Health Care Services to income-eligible children under 19 years of age, regardless of immigration status. But in November 2017, Donald Trump became president and his campaign promises to increase deportations and dismantle immigrant benefits shut the gates just as suddenly. The welcome mat was hardly out when it was yanked back in again.

But undocumented children, already left behind in previous legislation and benefits for undocumented adults, did not grab headlines. Somehow, DACA recipients were given more column space. DACA recipients were students and employees. They were visible and they had a voice.

Younger undocumented children suddenly became more vulnerable as the atmosphere of fear became pervasive with increased ICE raids and arrests.

My focus on Filipino undocumented children presented challenges. The latest Census report finds that Filipinos are the second largest Asian group in the U.S. It also estimates that there are one million undocumented Filipinos in the U.S. In 2011, 2 percent of all undocumented immigrants in the U.S. were from the Philippines, according to the Migration Policy Institute (MPI). Undocumented Filipino immigrants in California ranked fourth in size, after Mexicans, Guatemalans and El Salvadorians.

Based on MPI data, two-thirds of all Filipino immigrants have strong English-language skills and, as a group, Filipino-born adults are more likely to be university graduates compared to all other immigrants and U.S. born adults. Many Filipino undocumented immigrants could actually benefit from finding out about new legislation and immigrant benefits through outreach programs.

But unlike Latinos, many Filipino undocumented immigrants and their children have stayed under the radar. Even before Trump, in immigrant services workshops and other community outreach programs, the number of participating undocumented Filipinos has always been lower than the Latinos.

In reaching out to undocumented Filipino parents and their children, I initially surveyed respondents through a Q&A form, which I sent to acquaintances and those with known connections to the undocumented. Even after assuring them that their names and photos won’t be printed, the survey did not produce a single respondent.

Next, I contacted health care facilities where a number of Filipino undocumented children received care. I spoke with nurse practitioners, administrators and pediatricians. This effort produced a few anecdotal stories that were used in later interviews. Two pediatricians in San Mateo County who were known to treat undocumented children refused to be interviewed. A breakthrough came when a clinical researcher in a San Francisco hospital agreed to have her name referenced. But her insights were mostly tentative and second hand, validating some of the anecdotal accounts from the first survey.

By the third story in the series, the Trump administration’s attempt to overhaul Obamacare made the previous story moot. New subject matter experts were found to speak to newly relevant issues and explain the complex situation. Now the threat to health care had crossed over from undocumented children to the population at large.

Making the Filipino community the focus of my reporting posed several challenges. Neither community nor faith-based programs compelled large numbers of undocumented Filipinos into discussion and participation.

It could be said that family values and pressures hinder participation and are key factors in making decisions. The divide between the Filipino first – and second-gen is deep and needs to be bridged. A number of second-gen Filipinos who were brought to the U.S. as children have become Americans in their ideas and expressions. Some of these are Filipinos who march to the protest beat of activists and protestors.

Still, a larger number of Filipinos heed their elders warning that the current administration will come down hard on the undocumented, even if they organize and have the numbers. The iconic Filipino value of the bamboo tree that bows through the storm and comes back up in the aftermath is a lesson learned at a young age.

[Photo by James Brooks via Flickr.]             

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