Typhoon immigration relief

A survivor walks among the debris of houses destroyed by Typhoon Haiyan. (NOEL CELIS / AFP/Getty Images / November 11, 2013)

Joy Ocampo’s family lost everything in the devastating typhoon that ravaged the Philippines.

Even the 20 pigs that Ocampo’s brother, his wife and their children were raising to sell at market were swept away.

Now the family depends on Ocampo, who each week sends them $150 from her paycheck as a caregiver to the elderly. 

But Ocampo lives a world away in Los Angeles, an undocumented worker who said her days are filled with worry that her immigration status will be detected and that she could be deported.

Ocampo is among the thousands of Filipinos urging the federal government to relax immigration law and offer them temporary protected status so that they can legally remain in the U.S. to earn money to sent to loved ones whose lives were upended by the typhoon.

"We need to be able to stay in the U.S. to earn a living," Ocampo said. "We need to support our loved ones who are without means."

“Relief 2 Recovery - TPS for Filipinos” is a national, public campaign led by workers, legal advocates, grass-roots organizations and faith leaders, among others, lobbying the Obama administration and the Department of Homeland Security to take swift action to designate temporary protected status (TPS) for the Philippines as a part of the effort to aid families suffering from devastation.

Advocates gathered at the U.S. Federal Building in downtown Los Angeles on Thursday, where they gathered signatures to deliver to the White House before Christmas. 

Under the plan, only Filipinos already in the U.S. may qualify for temporary protected status, which is sometimes granted to foreign nationals after civil wars or natural disasters. Recipients, including students and tourists with valid visas as well as those from the Philippines now in the country illegally, would be allowed to live and work in the states for a designated period.

Officials at the Philippine Embassy announced Monday morning that they made a formal request to the U.S. to be designated with TPS.

An estimated 300,000 Filipinos nationwide could be eligible for protective status, said Aquilina Soriano Versoza, executive director of the Pilipino Workers Center of Southern California.

"It would mean so much to us,” said Ocampo. “I pray that something good will happen for those who have desperate family members to care for."

Usually, if Homeland Security officials grant temporary protected status, 30 days must pass before the application process opens, then there are 60 days for individuals to apply, Soriano Versoza said. Other disasters that prompted TPS include the 2010 earthquake in Haiti, along with the 1999 hurricane in Honduras and Nicaragua.

When the typhoon hit the Philippines, "Filipino leaders asked each other: 'How can we provide more relief?' There is always a huge surge of help in the beginning, then people forget," says Anthony Ng, a policy advocate at Advancing Justice-Los Angeles, the nation's largest civil rights group for Asian Americans. "It's a natural for us to get involved. This is a humanitarian form of aid."

And with aid, Ocampo is hoping she can give her family members in Ormoc City more peace of mind.

"When I leave my apartment,” she said, “I hold the rosary to keep praying for my safety -- and everyone's safety."

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E-mail: anh.do@latimes.com
Twitter: @newsterrier