CALIFORNIA – Overseas Filipino workers are taking exception to President Rodrigo Duterte’s statements about not lifting a finger to aid Filipinos caught illegally staying in the United States.

“Undocumented Filipinos are still Filipino citizens holding Filipino passports. They are sending everything they earn back to the Philippines. Sinasabi na kami ang bagong bayani. Ganito ba ang trato sa mga bayani?” asked Lolita Lledo, associate director of the Pilipino Workers Center (PWC) in Los Angeles, California.

Lledo said that Mexico helps its own citizens.

She pointed out that extending help is not intervening.

Lledo lamented that Filipinos in the United States contribute the highest in remittances.

She added that if most OFWs had a choice, they would not have left the Philippines, as they did so only out of necessity.

Lledo spoke to visiting Filipino journalists who were on a reporting tour sponsored by the Foreign Press Center of the US State Department.

Her colleague Aquilina Soriano Verzosa, executive director, said Filipinos are the largest Asian group in California and second largest in the US. They are also the largest in the most populated American states.

Versoza said many overseas Filipinos are exposed to wage theft, with $26.2 million a week lost to workers in Southern California each week.

They are also threatened by unemployment, health and safety risks, labor trafficking and discrimination, Versoza added.

She admitted that growing anti-immigrant sentiments puts many OFWs in vulnerable positions, with many afraid to report labor law violations due to fear of being deported.

Versoza also believes the sentiments about immigrants taking away jobs from citizens are unfair.

“These jobs immigrants are doing because these are jobs the folks here don’t want to do. These are domestic work, retail work. Immigrants are not taking away their jobs, they are filling in these jobs. It is automation that is sending jobs away,” Verzosa said.

In a separate interview, Search to Involve Pilipino Americans (SIPA) interim executive director Dorothy Gamoning agreed, saying Filipino immigrants provide a lot to the workforce.

Cracking down on immigrants, she said, would mean losing “a great deal of talent and work ethic critical to this area of Los Angeles.”

PWC is providing advocacy, worker leadership development, research, outreach and campaign services in aid of Filipino workers in the United States.

SIPA, on the other hand, provides health and human services, community economic development is a Filipino-American social service agency.