By Christopher Lapinig
On February 4, 2017, I set off to spend my second weekend in a row at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX). In the wake of the new presidential administration’s January 27 executive order barring noncitizens from seven countries from entering the United States, the organization for whom I work, Asian Americans Advancing Justice - Los Angeles, a coalition of nonprofit organizations, and volunteer attorneys have provided legal assistance to distraught family members at LAX, waiting anxiously to see if their loved ones would be permitted to enter the United States.
Even though a February 3 court order unambiguously stayed implementation of the travel ban, we continued to get reports from family and friends about noncitizen travelers stuck for hours at border inspections at LAX. Travelers were held up by U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) for hours—on average at least three hours and sometimes for more than twelve—waiting to complete secondary border inspections, often without food or water.
It did not matter if the traveler had a green card or a valid visa. And it did not matter what country they came from. We received reports of travelers from all over the world—countries in East Asia, Southeast Asia, Africa, and Latin America—suffering inordinate delays waiting to clear customs at LAX.
I have felt an obligation—as a Filipino American, a son of immigrants, and a public interest attorney—to provide whatever assistance I can to individuals and families affected by the new administration’s anti-immigrant actions. I have been disheartened, however, to find Filipinos on social media expressing support for the new U.S. president’s actions, buying into xenophobic and Islamophobic myths peddled by the administration. Indeed, although Asian Americans overwhelmingly voted against the new president in November, Filipino Americans were the most likely to vote for the Republican candidate among the largest Asian American ethnic groups.
I hope Filipinos in the United States, in the Philippines, and around the globe come to appreciate that, although we may not have been named explicitly in the new administration’s executive orders thus far, we are very much in its crosshairs. While campaigning, the new U.S. president included the Philippines in a list of “terrorist nations,” describing individuals from such countries as “animals.” In fact, the Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs recently estimated that more than 300,000 Filipinos in the United States may be targeted for deportation. As recently as last week, rumors—debunked for now—swirled that the administration might expand the existing travel ban to include the southern Philippines.
Filipinos around the world must remain vigilant. Filipinos have endured a long history of discrimination in the United States, where businesses once felt free to post signs declaring that “no Filipinos or dogs [were] allowed.” Thankfully, Filipino Americans also have a storied history of activism, partnering with other communities to fight injustice and racism.
The new administration’s recent actions represent only the latest chapter of the United States’ sordid history with racism and xenophobia. The new U.S. president built his campaign on vicious anti-immigrant rhetoric, and the administration’s first few weeks in office have demonstrated that it intends to make good on these campaign promises. The administration’s actions not only imperil Filipinos and other immigrants in the United States but threaten to plunge the Philippines and its neighbors into war.
The world has entered uncertain times, and in the United States, our most vulnerable communities—people of color, noncitizens, religious minorities, and others—have been targeted by the new administration and many of its supporters. But Filipinos should not give into any false comfort that we are not the administration’s prime suspects at the moment. We should remember that, at any time, we could be next on the chopping block. With this in mind, it is imperative that Filipinos stand in solidarity to help protect those who have already been singled out by the new administration. We must protest xenophobic actions and provide service to those unjustly targeted. If we do not, when our name is ultimately called, we cannot in good faith expect others to come to our defense.
Christopher M. Lapinig is a Skadden Fellow and Registered Legal Services Attorney at Asian Americans Advancing Justice - Los Angeles, the United States’ largest legal services and civil rights organization for Asian Americans, Pacific Islanders, and Native Hawaiians. If you are in need of legal assistance, you can reach Advancing Justice-LA at our Tagalog helpline at +1-855-300-2552.