our troubled immigration system
When I was 7 years old, my dad sat me and my two siblings down on the couch. He grimly told us that he was facing the possibility of being fired from his job. I had never seen him look so serious my entire life, and for the first time, I saw him look as scared as I did in that moment.
For context, my dad grew up in Davao City in the Philippines. His father, however, was an American-born man, who fought in two American wars and retired to the Philippines to marry and begin a family. My dad was born in 1968, the youngest of three siblings. Though his father wasn’t around too much, he worked hard growing up, earning his bachelor’s degree in Medical Technology at a Philippine university.
Because his father was an American-born citizen, he actually had entitlement to claim American citizenship. Seeking better opportunities, he moved to America at 22 with $50 in his pocket, living in a mobile home with his sister in Hayward.
After working odd jobs for a year, he landed a position at the Veteran’s Affairs (VA) Hospital in San Francisco, working with medical equipment. There, he worked for nearly twenty years, earning enough to marry and begin a family of his own.
Yet, problems arose. In 2007, a workplace audit found that he had never registered for the Selective Service, making him illegible for his government job and prone to immediate termination—he was a draft dodger in the government’s eyes
My dad was frustrated. Most young American men learn about the Selective Service in high school. Most immigrants to America learn about it in their process of obtaining legal citizenship. In my dad’s case, he was never exposed to any of these. And now, he faced losing the life he built because of it.
That was probably the first time I had really been exposed to the realities of being the child of two Pilipinx immigrants. My dad never sugarcoated things to me—he told me he was probably going to lose his job. At 7 years old, I felt lost. I grew up in America my entire life—I was terrified to see it threatened like this. The rug was ready to be ripped out from right under our feet. How was this fair?
The case actually got picked up by our county representative after gaining some media attention and made it all the way to Congressional hearing. There, a bill was passed making an exception for my dad’s case—he was allowed to continue his employment. There, our nightmare had ended.
Still, I was left with many questions. It all still seemed very unfair, and I couldn’t help but ask myself for the first time—how different are my family and I from everyone around us?