Time for Immigration reform

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It is quite shocking to learn that the Commonwealth Immigration Act of 1940 (AKA Commonwealth Act 613) has remained unchanged since it was enacted.

The date says it all. The Act became law before World War II. There is no question that the world back then is far different from today.
It is so archaic a law that what seemed sensible back then no longer makes any sense, yet even its most obsolete provisions are part of the law of the land.

Consider that at the time it was enacted, the population of the Republic of the Philippines was less than 10 million. By the end of this year, there will be 100 million Filipinos and counting.

Over the past seven decades, there have been a couple of meager attempts to amend, when what is needed is a complete review, if not overhaul, of that ancient law.

The complex nature of global immigration requires that the Philippines should take action as soon as possible. It is now 2013. There are a lot of Filipinos looking for greener pastures abroad, but at the same time foreigners are coming to plant roots here, and the influx will only accelerate in the future. What to do with them is an issue that needs to be resolved now, not tomorrow.

It should be worth noting that even the United States has been adjusting and correcting its immigration laws constantly for the past decades.
In fact, President Barack Obama has made immigration reform one of the centerpieces of his second term.

House Speaker Feliciano ‘Sonny’ Belmonte should be commended for taking the initiative to modernize the Philippines’ immigration law with his Comprehensive Immigration Act of 2013, with Rep. Crispin Remulla, by the way, as co-author.

Remulla will not be a member of the incoming Congress, but his absence should not affect the bill itself. Its principal author remains firmly entrenched as leader of the House of Representatives.

This piece of legislation should be considered a priority bill. If passed, the new law would not only result in a more realistic immigration law. It would also be, more importantly, lead to a reorganization of the Bureau of Immigration (BI), as proposed by the bill.

Hotbed of corruption
It is common knowledge that the BI is a hotbed of corruption, not unlike the Bureau of Customs. Even members of the rank-and-file drive the latest SUV models and live in palatial homes. One can only imagine the opulence of the more entrenched officials.

Foreigners of dubious repute, who have no business being in the Philippines can stay in the country for as long as they like with the “assistance” of BI personnel.

Anyone from any country who wants to become permanent residents of the Philippines can wed a Filipino woman, all for the usual Standard Operating Procedures. Translation: Philippine residency is available for a few thousand pesos, courtesy of fixers working with corrupt insiders.

Foreigners who have legal problems while visiting the country are easy prey for Immigration agents, who convince them that a little grease money is all that’s needed to resolve the cases in their favor.

For this reason, gangsters, drug lords, and traffickers of women and children, among others, can continue pursuing their nefarious activities within Philippine territory with ease.

If the Belmonte bill is passed into law, illegal immigration can be curbed, investments and tourism (from desirable foreigners) can be expected to rise substantially, local businesses protected, and national security reinforced.

Being an island republic, it is easy to smuggle illegals into the country. This, too, can be regulated with the help of the Comprehensive Immigration Act of 2013.

To be clear, the Philippines should welcome foreigners who wish to become permanent residents, or even citizens, if they have something to offer the country, whether in the arts, athletics, the academe or in business.

Those who have been here for the longest time and who have contributed to the advancement of the Philippines in whatever area and have raised families with their Filipino husbands or wives should also be given the opportunity to legalize their status.

At the very least, the country urgently needs to streamline the process of naturalization.

Immigration reform is an idea whose time has come.

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