OBAMA AND FILIPINO MIGRANTS IN THE U.S.
Centerstage / UPI Asia
Alexander Martin Remollino
Manila, Philippines, November 06 — How will a Barack Obama presidency affect Filipino migrants in the United States?
This question has arisen following the election of Obama, in part because the U.S. president-elect’s father is a Kenyan who migrated to Hawaii and lived there for two years before divorcing his mother, a white American from Kansas, when he was two years old.
“The (Obama administration’s) policy on immigrants may be more relaxed,” said Philippine Senator Francis “Chiz” Escudero. “He is the first U.S. president who has a non-American father, and he understands the situation of immigrants.”
Not only is the United States –- a nation largely peopled by the descendants of immigrants –- home to one of the largest Filipino migrant communities in the world. It is also the Philippines’ biggest source of remittances, with 51 percent of the latter’s remittances coming from the U.S.
These remittances are, for the most part, the life jacket that keeps the Philippine economy afloat even as it is perpetually ridden by deficit and debt.
How an Obama presidency will treat Filipino migrants in the U.S. will surely affect not only the Filipino-American community, but also the Philippines itself.
Escudero had a point in bringing up the issue of tight immigration policies, which have burdened those forced out of their homelands by the need to seek greener pastures abroad.
That, however, is just one part of the matter. The greater issue is how an Obama administration will respond to the needs of Filipino migrants who are starting to feel the effects of the U.S. financial crisis.
The U.S. has always beckoned to people across the globe with its promises of being a land of opportunity, and Filipinos have not been exempt from this. Since the first decades of the 20th century, ever-growing numbers of Filipinos have migrated to the U.S. in search of opportunities unavailable in the homeland largely due to the ravages of colonialism and neocolonialism. Confronting racism that lingers even today, these Filipinos spent the best years of their lives working to establish decent livelihoods in a country 10,000 miles away from their motherland.
Now the 4 million Filipinos in the United States are increasingly seeing the fruits of their and their forebears’ labor crumble to the ground –- with the country they have learned to also call home being in the grip of an economic crisis surpassed, in magnitude, only by the Great Depression of the 1930s.
In 2001, U.S. financial institutions offered low interest rates for home mortgage loans; even those with low income or virtually no collateral were encouraged to apply for home loans. Their loans, which became known as “subprime mortgages,” accumulated in U.S. financial institutions, starting in 2001. To spread the risk exposure of banks for these subprime mortgages, there was a process of “securitization” in which home mortgage loan packages were combined with others, packaged and sold as bonds and securities called collateralized debt obligations. These were guaranteed in credit default swaps by insurance companies and sold to other banks, financial investment houses and companies in the U.S. that deal in speculative investments for high returns.
But since the last quarter of 2006, borrowers –- especially those with subprime mortgages – increasingly failed to pay their amortizations. This caused a ripple effect on the banks and investment houses holding both the mortgages and the CDOs, as well as those which issued CDs, leading to a series of bankruptcies of banks and investment houses which were touted as “too big to fail.”
The U.S. financial crisis has led to company closures and the subsequent losses of jobs. Various news accounts show that some 750,000 jobs have been wiped out in the U.S. as a result of the crisis.
Filipinos are increasingly among those finding themselves without jobs in the U.S. as the crisis goes on. This has resulted in reduced remittance flows, the adverse effects of which the Philippine economy is starting to feel.
The Obama administration should face not only the issue of tight immigration laws, but also the needs of Filipino immigrants in the U.S. who are increasingly being weighed down by the financial crisis.
It will be interesting to see how an Obama administration will respond to the U.S. financial crisis, given that both he and his opponent, John McCain, received campaign contributions from Wall Street. According to the Sept. 16 issue of the Wall Street Journal, Obama received $191,000 from Merrill Lynch, $361,000 from Lehman Brothers, and $80,000 from Fannie Mae –- to name only a few.
These are just some of the financial institutions that have put the United States and the American people into the mess they are now in, and which the U.S. government has had to bail out even as those who bear the brunt of the crunch –- including more and more Filipino migrants –- are left to fend for themselves.