NaFFAA Report: May 2011 Ben de Guzman, NaFFAA Washington, DC Representative
1. NaFFAA in Washington, DC a. Partnerships i. Civil Rights 1. NCAPA 2. Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights ii. Philippine Embassy b. Legislation/ Policy i. Veterans ii. Immigration iii. SAVE iv. Filipino American History Month 2. Next Steps: Analysis of 2011 and 2012 a. Immigration i. Fil Vets Family Reunification ii. DREAM b. Census i. Redistricting ii. Filipinos and AAPIs: We’re Number 2? iii. Voting Rights Jurisdictions: California, Hawai’I, Alaska c. Filipino American History Month d. Political Climate i. Filipino American Appointees ii. Elections 1. FilVote 2. Partisan concerns e. Infrastructure: How can we build the capacity to do what we need to do? i. NaFFAA ii. NCAPA: Kellogg Racial Healing Grant
NaFFAA Report: May 2011 Ben de Guzman, NaFFAA Washington, DC Representative NaFFAA, as the only national Filipino American organization in Washington, DC, continues to leverage its presence to promote the interests of the Filipino American community. Officially, NaFFAA continues to hold membership in two of the key national coalitions working on behalf of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (AAPI), the National Council of Asian Pacific Americans (NCAPA) and the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights (the Leadership Conference). NCAPA is the leading coalition of national AAPI organizations, and NaFFAA remains an active member, participating in the immigration coalition. NaFFAA also still holds a position in the Leadership Conference membership. As the nation’s oldest and largest national civil rights coalition, the Leadership Conference is the legislative arm of the civil rights movement and a key player in Beltway politics. The Philippine Embassy continues to be a friend and partner with NaFFAA and our longstanding relationship has been able to provide synergy in terms of our impact on both domestic and international policy debates in Washington, DC. Through these partnerships, NaFFAA is seen as the go-to organization when policymakers think about the Filipino American community. Through its leadership in the National Alliance for Filipino Veterans Equity (NAFVE), NaFFAA continues to be the most respected authority on the issue of Filipino World War II veterans’ status. Widely credited with leading the winning coalition that was able to finally secure military recognition and financial recompense for Filipino WWII veterans based on their service in the U.S. armed forces during WWII, NAFVE continues to engage policymakers on the ongoing concerns for these veterans and their families. Despite a drawback on resources after the successful campaign, NAFVE continues to serve as the leading authority on Filipino WWII veterans. NAFVE and NaFFAA are the first resource for Filipino Americans and Filipino WWII veterans in particular on the Hill. Leveraging personal and professional relationships with members of Congress such as House VA Committee Ranking Member Bob Filner (D-CA), the former and current Chairs of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus Mike Honda (D-CA) and Judy Chu (D-CA) respectively, and with Senate elder statesmen Daniel Akaka (D-HI) and Daniel Inouye (D-HI), NAFVE and NaFFAA have become the indispensable source of institutional knowledge about the Filipino American community on Capitol Hill. Committed to bipartisan work, NAFVE and NaFFAA led the first Filipino American constituency to meet with Filipino American House of Representatives member Steve Austria (R-OH) in Washington, DC during the opening days of the 111th Congress. NaFFAA’s influence in Washington, DC moves down Pennsylvania Avenue from the Capitol to the White House. President Barack Obama was an active advocate for Filipino World War II veterans in the Senate and as President, put key personnel in place to keep our interests in mind at the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). Secretary Eric Shinseki, one of three Asian Americans to serve in President Obama’s Cabinet, knows the plight of the Filipino WWII veterans personally, based in no
NaFFAA Report: May 2011 Ben de Guzman, NaFFAA Washington, DC Representative small part, on his relationship with Maj. Gen. Tony Taguba. Gen. Taguba raised the profile of Filipino WWII veterans in the agency through his leadership of the citizens Advisory Commission for the VA’s Center for Minority Veterans. He specifically pointed to NAFVE and NaFFAA as the lead authorities on this issue and we were the only domestic organizations invited to take part in a special working group convened by Assistant Undersecretary Mike Cardarelli, who heads the VA agency specifically charged with disbursement of payments to Filipino WWII veterans through the Filipino Veterans Equity Compensation Fund (FVEC). Through our participation on this working group, we were able to make specific policy recommendations that led to changes such as a better process for notifying Filipino WWII veterans about their claims, and a series of Town Halls with VA Manila Regional Office Director Jon Skelly across the country. President Obama’s commitment to AAPIs and Filipino Americans continues to be evident in other areas of his Administration. Until her recent departure, Charmaine Manansala was the highest ranking Filipina in the Obama Administration, where she led the Department of Labor’s Congressional liaison work. Filipino Americans are positioned throughout the Administration and many of them have connections with NaFFAA. Two of his appointees in the White House Advisory Commission on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders are Filipino- NaFFAA Vice Chair Emerita Rozita Lee and Hector Vargas. Hector has worked closely with NaFFAA in the past and was a critical voice in support for LGBT Filipino Americans in NaFFAA’s earlier years. Both remain staunch advocates for NaFFAA in the White House. NAFVE and NaFFAA continue to monitor critical policies that affect Filipino Americans in Washington, DC. With respect to Filipino WWII veterans, we find ourselves in a political climate where our historic champions, including Rep. Filner and Sen. Akaka have diminished roles. Given the current circumstances, prospects for moving legislation forward face hurdles that may be insurmountable. NAFVE remains committed to identifying the best political and community strategies to move the issue forward. The legislation to close the final chapter and restore FULL equity for Filipino WWII veterans remains elusive, but has been introduced in the House by Rep. Jackie Speier (D-CA). NAFVE has worked with her office, as well as with the House Veterans Affairs Committee and CAPAC to support the bill. Our position with respect to this bill, given the political challenges in passing legislation with a high price tag, has been to support full equity as part of a broader agenda that includes not only legislative action, but more inclusive policy efforts to improve the actual conditions in the daily lives of Filipino WWII veterans and their families. This agenda includes administrative policies to improve VA’s response to Filipino WWII veterans as well as consideration of the lawsuits that are pushing for judicial remedies for their ongoing issues. One of the potential areas of tension will be the discussions on moving both a strategy for full equity AND simultaneously pushing for an official apology from the U.S. government. The political and legislative analysis of this tension is complex, but will require a more intentional conversation between the diverse voices of the movement for Filipino WWII veterans.
NaFFAA Report: May 2011 Ben de Guzman, NaFFAA Washington, DC Representative Immigration is another area of concern for NaFFAA in Washington, DC. Filipino Americans and our history of immigration to the United States have positioned us as a key constituency in the national debate on comprehensive immigration reform. We have played a critical role in this debate on three fronts: 1) Family reunification and backlogs of family petitions; 2) Filipino WWII Veterans Family Reunification Act; and 3) National spokespeople. With some of the longest lines in the world for backlogs of family petitions (topping out at 20+ years), Filipino Americans are positioned as the most affected community in the discussions around family immigration. At the same time, the sympathetic narrative of the Filipino WWII veteran separated from his family in his twilight years has translated into one of the few immigration legislation bills that has been able to win a significantly bipartisan vote in the Senate. Finally, as the result of a variety of circumstances both intentional and providential, Filipino Americans have emerged as key spokespeople on critical immigration legislation. Shirley Tan and Jay Mercado, a Filipina American lesbian couple in Pacifica, CA, came forward as the “poster family” in the debates around the Uniting American Families Act (UAFA), which will allow binational same sex couples to petition for each other in the same way that straight couples can through marriage. Their prototypical “family next door” narrative with their twin sons and Jay’s mother put a human face on the controversies attendant not only to immigration, but also to LGBT issues. From Shirley’s tearful testimony before the U.S. Senate, to their article in “People” magazine, they have represented the Filipino American community well and advanced our interests in both immigrants rights and LGBT equality struggles in Washington, DC. While they have not had direct interaction with NaFFAA, their personal relationship with NaFFAA Washington, DC representative Ben de Guzman has educated them on the larger role Filipino Americans can and must play in the national immigration reform debate. As other compelling narratives emerge from our community, including Jose Antonio Vargas and his work on behalf of the DREAM Act, Filipinos are positioned to make an unprecedented impact on the national scene with respect to immigration. Another specific instance of Filipino Americans in immigration legislation is the Filipino American WWII Veterans Family Reunification Bill- which will allow eligible veterans to have expedited petitions to bring their families to the U.S. Senator Akaka and Congresswoman Mazie Hirono (D-HI) continue to champion this bill, which is one of the few pieces of immigration legislation that got a bipartisan vote in either house of Congress. This legislation is deemed to be fairly non-controversial for an immigration bill, but will probably not pass unless attached to a broader bill. One of the vehicles that are currently being discussed for it include Rep. Mike Honda’s Reuniting Families Act, which also includes a number of provisions around family immigration that will benefit Filipino Americans, including reduction of family petition backlogs, and a “visa recapture” that will reintroduce unused visas back into the system (think of it as a “rollover plan” for family visas). Another vehicle is a proposed bill by Senator Menendez (D-NJ) that will include larger provisions to support military families.
NaFFAA Report: May 2011 Ben de Guzman, NaFFAA Washington, DC Representative The larger lesson to be learned here is the need for the Filipino American community to weigh in on the immigration reform debate. We need to reject the notion propagated by the media that immigration is only a Latino issue. The provisions around family immigration directly affect Filipinos and other Asian Americans and are just as critical to the discussion. Our voice is needed at this moment. One of NaFFAA’s ongoing debates has been around the priority of issues and policies that are based in domestic Filipino constituencies in the United States and international policy debates that have an impact on the Philippines as our ancestral homeland. The SAVE Act, which will provide support for Philippine textile industries while ensuring ongoing support for United States business and worker interests, is another piece of legislation that NaFFAA continues to monitor. Eric Lachica, whose longtime advocacy on behalf of the community is well documented, is taking the lead on this issue, but NaFFAA has been able to interface with key constituencies such as American labor, to identify any potential snags or challenges. Pieces of legislation specifically mentioning the Filipino American community are admittedly few and far between, but one piece that is a sentimental favorite in the community is the resolution that recognizes Filipino American History Month (FAHM). NaFFAA has been part of a coalition including the Filipino American National Historical Society that has successfully lobbied on behalf of official recognition of FAHM in October. In 2009, the House passed a resolution that officially recognizes FAHM in October in perpetuity. That same year, the Senate passed a similar resolution, but because of differences in protocol and procedure, the Senate’s resolution only holds for the year in which it is passed and needs to be renewed annually. FANHS and NaFFAA lead the efforts to ensure that the Senate has the political will to pass this resolution on an annual basis and that the House also takes the opportunity to make public acknowledgement of FAHM every October. Looking to 2011 and 2012, there are a number of political and policy issues moving in Washington, DC that will directly affect Filipino Americans. As mentioned above, the immigration debate is taking on a higher profile with President Obama’s recent speech in Texas on the subject. Filipinos will have a number of opportunities to weigh in on the debate in general and to support the Filipino WWII Family Reunification Bill in particular. The DREAM Act and its provisions to provide a path to citizenship for the children of undocumented immigrants will also be part of the discussion. The Census is beginning to release data collected in 2010 and states around the country are involved in the process of redistricting and drawing Congressional district lines based on that data. One particular item that directly affects Filipinos will be the release of jurisdictions that will be required to translate voting materials into Filipino languages based on Section 203 of the Voting Rights Act. Currently, Filipinos are supported by this legislation with bilingual ballots in
NaFFAA Report: May 2011 Ben de Guzman, NaFFAA Washington, DC Representative five jurisdictions: San Mateo County (San Jose, CA), Los Angeles County (Los Angeles, CA), Honolulu County (Honolulu, HI), San Diego County (San Diego, CA), and Kodiak Island (Kodiak, AK). Currently, these jurisdictions are not expected to change, but if there are any new jurisdictions that are added, Filipinos will have an opportunity to talk about this little discussed law that directly supports our limited English proficient communities. One data item that is emerging is that Filipinos have fallen behind Asian Indians and is now the third largest Asian American community in the United States. NaFFAA will have an opportunity to think about the new Census figures and identify strategies to talk about it in support of its agenda for the Filipino American community. The Filipino American History Month Resolution will need to be re-introduced in the Senate this August and September in order to be passed by October. Even though the House technically recognizes FAHM in perpetuity, Congressmembers will need to be pressed to make more public statements in support. FANHS has taken the lead on this in the past, but NaFFAA has also been engaged. As the political climate heats up in Washington, DC heading into next year’s Presidential Elections, Filipino Americans will have an opportunity to figure in the mix. Groups like Kaya: Filipino Americans for Progress are leveraging relationships to press for more Filipino American appointees in the Obama Administration, and NaFFAA has also been involved in this process to the extent possible as a non-profit organization. FilVote will be a key opportunity to build political power in the Filipino American community. As a non-partisan effort, it will increase our opportunity to talk to both sides of the aisle and reaffirm our engagement in the political process. In order to best accomplish its goals though, NaFFAA will need to figure out its capacity issues and identify the best strategies to raise the necessary funds to do its work. One opportunity that NaFFAA’s DC presence in NCAPA is potentially able to leverage is a multi-million dollar grant from Kellogg’s Racial Healing Initiative. Ben de Guzman is working with NCAPA and the Asian Pacific Islander American Health Forum (APIAHF) to make sure that NaFFAA and the Filipino American community is best able to partner with this work in ways that will build our collective capacity.