Fresh from a weekend teleconference on nonprofit aid to the typhoon-ravaged Philippines, Aida Rivera, Pennsylvania chairwoman of the National Federation of Filipino-American Associations, said Tuesday that local groups had joined a growing movement to seek "temporary protected status" for Filipinos in the United States.
That designation, called TPS, can be granted by the president whenever an armed conflict or environmental disaster temporarily prevents a country's nationals from returning home safely.
Haitians in the United States got TPS after their country's 2010 earthquake; Syrians, whose country is wracked by civil war, have the status, too.
Under TPS, eligible immigrants - many undocumented or on short-term visas - get work authorization and protection from deportation for 18 months. Depending on the individual's circumstances, they may also get authorization to travel outside the United States and return.
About a half-million Filipinos in the United States would be affected.
"Even those with expired visas," said Rivera. "They can go home to bury their dead, or visit relatives who have been badly affected by the typhoon. They can earn money to send back to the affected people."
More than 5,600 people are dead, 26,000 injured, and 1,800 missing as a result of Typhoon Haiyan, the Nov. 2 storm that slammed the Philippines with torrential rain and 195 m.p.h. winds.
The campaign for TPS is spearheaded by Filipino groups in New York City, Los Angeles and San Francisco, where their immigrant populations are largest.
About four million people born in the Philippines live in this country, about 21,000 in Southeastern Pennsylvania and South Jersey.
The TPS campaign will raise its profile Wednesday with news conferences in New York and California. Participants are expected to hold up photographs of their loved ones overseas.
Demonstrators will call for Philippine President Benigno Aquino III to formally request TPS and President Obama to grant it immediately.
Other groups, including in Pennsylvania and New Jersey, will use letters to lawmakers, social media and online petitions to draw attention to the issue.
"We are supportive of the initiative and soliciting signatures," said Senn Fontanilla, president of the Philippine Community of Southern New Jersey, a Stratford nonprofit.
"It would be great if the president allowed it," said Jeanilyn Ficarra, cofounder of Kapitbayan Philippine American Association of Chester County, based in Glenmoore.
Others participating include: Filipino Folk Arts Society in Philadelphia; Filipino-American Association of Philadelphia; Filipino-American Association of Bucks County; Philippine Medical Society Group of Greater Philadelphia; and the Philippine American Association of Central Pennsylvania in Harrisburg.
"We have to accept the fact that we need TPS until such time as things will improve," said Ernesto Gange, a spokesman for the Bucks County association.
Gange, whose Bensalem home is a 15-minute drive from the Langhorne office of Rep. Michael Fitzpatrick (R., Pa.), said he planned to personally lobby the lawmaker.
While TPS does not require congressional approval, about 20 senators, including Sen. Robert Menendez (D., N.J.), and 30 representatives publicly support the measure.
National Federation of Filipino-American Associations president Eduardo Navarra has thanked the bipartisan group.
"TPS will aid the estimated 270,000 undocumented Filipinos in the U.S., and another 300,000 on temporary visas," Navarra said in a statement last month. "This is a very large pool of potentially eligible Filipinos who would be able to stay in the U.S., obtain work permits, and send remittances to the Philippines.
"But to make this happen," he added, "there must be public pressure from the community, because it is ultimately up to the president to make this designation."
A spokesman for U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services said the Philippine government must make a formal request for TPS for Filipinos here before the United States would consider implementing the status change.
Number of people killed
in the Nov. 2 typhoon.
Number of people injured
in the typhoon.
Number of people missing.
Number of people born in the Philippines now living in the U.S.
Number of Filipinos in Southeastern Pennsylvania
and South Jersey.