By Bert Eljera
Things were going well for Jojo and Emilyn Nanez. After moving from Davao City with practically nothing but the clothes on their backs, they settled in an unlikely place – Gonzales, Texas.
A small city of less than 8,000, Gonzales, in North Texas, has less than 1 percent Asian in its population and Jojo and Emilyn kind of stood out.
Emilyn,34, found a job as a lab tech at the Gonzales Healthcare Center, while Jojo, 38, a college professor back in the Philippines, stayed home because as a dependent, he was prevented from working.
Despite the challenges, the Nanez family was thriving, especially after the birth of their first child, Almira Isabelle. But in March 2013, following the birth of their second child, Emilyn suffered a stroke.
This was followed by another stroke in June.
In an interview with the Gonzales Inquierer, Jojo Nanez said he remembered his wife coming home from work one night saying her blood pressure was high, and he thought she would just sleep through it and be OK.
But around 10 a.m. the following day, Emily began screaming in pain and asked him to get her some Tylenol.
“So I went to the kitchen to get it,” he says, “and when I got back she was slurring her speech. I called 911 and EMS got here minutes later.
“I haven’t been able to work since the stroke,” Emilyn said. “Now I am on short-term disability.”
Her working visa is expiring in July, but unless she gets back to work, which is uncertain because she remains partially paralyzed, the family can be deported back to the Philippines.
Jojo said they have enlisted the services of an immigration lawyer from New York but he said their case remains uncertain.
A short cut to prevent deportation is a petition currently gathering signatures that would designate the Philippines with a Temporary Protected Status (TPS).
A TPS designation provides a variety of benefits to Filipinos living in the United States, including a hold on deportation and faster adjustments of immigration status.
A country may be designated for TPS if it has been impacted by a natural disaster that has “result[ed] in a substantial, but temporary, disruption of living conditions” such that the country is “unable, temporarily, to handle adequately the return” of its nationals currently in the United States.
The US has provided the TPS designation to countries hit by disasters in the past, including Haiti, Nicaragua and El Salvador.
Filipino-American leaders say a TPS designation will allow Filipinos like the Nanez family to continue working in the United States and send money to their families in the Phliippines, instead of being an additional burden if sent home.
The TPS petition comes on the heels of super typhoon Haiyan/Yolanda that killed more 6,000 people and rendered more than 4 million homeless.
However, the online petitions are encountering difficulty in gathering the 100,000 signatures needed for the White House and the Obama administration to act on the proposal.
As of Jan. 26, the petition on the We the People website has generated only 80 signatures for the Feb. 1 deadline fast approaching.
Another We the People petition was started by a Filipino-American in Houston, Texas on Jan.8, but so far garnered only 376 signatures as Jan. 26. The deadline to gather 100,000 signatures is Feb. 8.
An online petition started by San Francisco lawyer Rodel Rodis is posted on the change.org website and essentially proposes a similar request..
It is asking President Obama to extend TPS to the Philippines for “Filipinos in the United States who are out of status and who lost their homes, offices, jobs, businesses, friends, families and communities when Yolanda struck their neighborhoods, their towns, their islands.”
“(This) will provide temporary relief that will allow them to remain in the United States where they can work to earn income to remit to their families in the Philippines.”