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Time to Breathe (Confessions of an Alien) #17

Beyond Deadlines is proud to serialize Mr. Romy Morales’ first book “Time to Breathe (Confessions of an Alien).” It is a personal account of a Filipino immigrant in the United States. It is a must read for those who wish to migrate to the U.S. Come let us join Romy in his journey and see what is in store for us.

(17th installment)


I finally contacted the Law Offices of Francis Tanyu. A filing clerk named Yoyoy, whom I learned later had just arrived from the Philippines, answers the phone.

Yoyoy came in the US as a landed immigrant having married his American citizen high school sweetheart whose family had earlier emigrated. Tanyu took him in his law office since his wife’s family is a friend of his.

The dutiful Yoyoy helped in answering phones, filing the paperwork, and doing errands for the office. With his thick Visayan accent, it is like he hardly learned the English language. He sounded funny to me especially when he is taking in phone calls.

Every time he picks up the phone, it sounds like he is sending a telegram…“Ello…Attornee Tanyu izz still on the outside with INS. Call in thirty minutes.”

“Yes, Mester Mo…ra…les?” he greeted me, clearly pronouncing every syllable of my name after I had introduced myself.

“I want to talk to Attorney Tanyu. I don’t know where we’ve met but I have his calling card with me.”

“Yes, Mr. Morales,” Tanyu butted in. It turned out he is on the other line listening to the phone conversation.

“I have your card with me, Sir. I can’t remember where we’ve met but I’m pretty sure it was in the Philippines. Have you by any chance been to the National Press Club?”

“Yes, I remember I was with this Mr. Malinao.”

“That’s it!” I exclaimed, as if I had suddenly hit the casino jackpot.

“We’ve met through Alito Malinao. He was a colleague from the Manila Standard.”

“Why don’t you come over to my office? I’ll see you on Saturday, after lunch…Why not make it before lunch, so we can have lunch together and then dinner and breakfast maybe?” he joked.

Tanyu had a great sense of humor. He would always crack jokes whenever he could.

“Ok, I’ll be there. I’ll be taking the bus.”

“My place is close to the intersection of Paramount and Florence Avenue.”

* * *

Crisologo is grinning from ear to ear when he came to the office one morning. It is unusual for him to smile after a court hearing.

“What’s the big smile for?” I asked.

“The hearing turned out okay. After the judge read the charges against Samson one by one, he asked if I had anything to say. I said, ‘with all humility, they are true, your honor.’ The judge asked what relief I want. I told him that Samson’s wife was scheduled for an adjustment of status; that I would like to request for a cancellation of removal against Samson. The judge threw a glance at the INS officer, who also said there were other reliefs available. I conferred with the INS officer. I did not avail of the relief shown to me; I insisted on the adjustment of status of Samson’s wife.”

With that, Crisologo said the judge reset the hearing for December, telling him to come to the court only when he could show Samson’s wife has adjusted status.

“That made Samson very happy. If I had contested the charges, it might have spelled further trouble for him.”

* * *

Marilyn, who at this point is now undergoing dialysis, gave me another source of extra income. She had referred me to Anthony Arroyo, a real estate broker, saying I could approach him for an extra job.

Anthony is a nephew of Jose Miguel Arroyo, the husband of President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo and I immediately scheduled an appointment with him. Outright, he said over the phone that he wanted me to do a feature article on his company, Premier Properties – a real estate firm in Glendale.

* * *

From Eagle Rock, I took a bus to Glendale. I had an hour and a half to make the appointment. From where I was, the bus stop in Glendale, I couldn’t see any bus coming that would take me to Stocker. I waited for quite sometime and still there is no bus. I am getting fidgety. I didn’t know exactly where Stocker is but since time is running out I decided to walk towards the direction where I believe the street is.

I thought Stocker is just a few blocks away. I walked slowly, continually looking back to see if a bus is coming. There is none so I continued walking until…first it started to drizzle and then it rained. I have a hooded jacket but just the same, the strong downpour got me wet, very wet.

Finally, after about an hour of walking, I reached Stocker. Prime Properties is at the corner of North Pacific and Stocker. I am soaking wet when Anthony met me by the door. He then walked me to the washroom so I could dry up.

* * *

The interview with Anthony and his wife May is more like a light conversation of old friends after which they offered to pay US$75 for the feature article. I accepted their offer.

Upon reaching home, I felt so tired and my legs hurt from the long walk. I removed my footwear, which I bought from a Payless outlet a year ago. Its rubber soles are already worn out and I needed a new pair…all the more reason to write.

The next day, I did not report for work. I worked on the article at home so I could get paid early. After lunch, I am done writing the article. I hurried down the street, got a bus to Glendale, and from Broadway and South Central, I again walked the long stretch of road to Stocker because I couldn’t wait for the bus to come and I am so eager to get paid for the article, remember I need a new pair of footwear.

Anthony is so glad with my work that he paid me USD80 instead of USD75 we agreed with. We are both satisfied.

* * *

It is Saturday and I am meeting Tanyu. I put on a light blue polo shirt and matched it with black pants. I want to impress him.

Tanyu is with a client when I arrive in his office and there are more waiting – an Armenian, two Latinos, probably Mexican, and a Vietnamese. The client he is with is a Filipino.

When Tanyu emerged from his room, he flashed a friendly smile and I easily felt at home. He is an average- sized Filipino, about 5’7” tall with salt and pepper hair, and nice shoulders and back. He reminds me of Tom Cruise in the movie “A Few Good Men.”

Tanyu is wearing a black blazer over a white polo shirt complimented by a striped tie. I stood up and introduced myself. He placed his arm around my shoulder while he led me to his room.

“So, what’s up?”

“I work with the law firm of Crisologo,” I told him.

Tanyu handed me some files to go over while he answered several phone calls.

It was past six in the evening when he stood up from his swivel chair, and invited me to join him in the dining room. Yoyoy and Oliver Narvaez followed.

Narvaez is a retired Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) officer. Although seventy and balding, he appears strong, young for his age, healthy and with a good physique.

Narvaez, was a policeman in the Philippines before immigrating to the US, had worked for two years with the Employment Development Department and five years with the INS. When he retired from the INS, Narvaez worked part- time with Tanyu doing paralegal jobs.

For dinner, we had tinolang manok and longganisa (Filipino chorizo) and cold orange juice.

In a nutshell during dinner I told him about my job, my employer (Crisologo) and his being new in the immigration industry, having just passed the California bar exam on his second attempt. I also told him that his law practice is picking up.

I also explained to Tanyu that my main concern about him is if working for him, I could take advantage of the 245(i) immigration law since Crisologo himself is not in a position to file a petition or an application for labor certification on my behalf.

He asked me point-blank: “How much does he pays you?”

It would have been embarrassing if had told him that I get US$500 a month; although, lately Crisologo gave me an additional US$200 so that I could rent a room.

“A thousand dollars,” I lied.

Tanyu raised his hand in the air and instinctively, I did the same. Our hands met, the way people give ‘high fives,’ and he suddenly said “deal.”

I am caught off guard. Did it mean I’ll get a thousand dollar a month if I work for him – US$300 more than what Crisologo is paying me? But, still it is to my consolation to know that Tanyu would also file an H-1B petition and an application for labor certification so that I could take advantage of Section 245(i) to preserve my eligibility, should I adjust my status in the future. With the 245(i) umbrella, I wouldn’t have to go back to the Philippines to be eligible for the green card.

“You can start tomorrow. You can even sleep in my house as long as you wouldn’t mind sleeping with my grandchildren,” he said.

Tanyu had two grandchildren, a boy and a girl, from his youngest son.

“I’ll have to tell Crisologo about this first. I would like to start in March.”

“You have to call me Monday, to acquaint yourself with the job. You will help me with the correspondence,” he countered.

“I’ll see you Saturday again,” I said, feeling elated from my meeting with him.

* * *

Oliver and I took the 460 bus to Los Angeles. He is staying in a US$200 studio-type apartment on 8th Street subsidized by the government for senior U.S. citizens. His wife, a caregiver, lives with him. All five of their children didn’t like to live in America, they all prefer living in the Philippines.

We reached Spring Street at past nine in the evening. From downtown L.A., Oliver walked to his apartment while I took another bus to Eagle Rock Boulevard. It would like this for the duration I worked with Tanyu.

* * *

Whenever I arrived late in downtown Spring Street from Paramount and the bus had already passed, I have to wait another hour for the next bus. Often times I would be the only one waiting for a bus ride at the corner of 7th and Spring Street. Sometimes there will be a drizzle, if not outright downpour, and it would be so cold that I really pray hard that the bus would come soon.

Once in a while, a homeless guy or a thug or a reject who probably resides in the nearby skid row will come and ask me for a quarter or a cigarette. When I have an extra quarter to spare, I gave it away. Most of the time, however, I didn’t. I fear that if I do, they might ask for more, which I think is an invitation for trouble.

Being approached by a bum, for me, is really a very frightening experience. It scares me to the bone.

Another scary instance are the rare times when the police’s black and white car will stop in front of me while its occupants visually seizes me up trying to determine whether I am a menace to society or not.

If only they knew that I am, out of fear, breaking down deep inside into pieces not because of their penetrating look but due to the possibility of them starting to ask questions about my status. I constantly pray that that won’t happen, especially during the unholy hours at night when I am alone in that lonely and scary place in downtown Los Angeles.

Thank God, my luck stayed with me and I always arrived home unscathed even after that harrowing times when I wait for a bus ride.

* * *

It was my last day with Crisologo. I worked on as many cases as I could. I finished a few family-based petitions and about three labor certifications. He didn’t seem upset when I told him I am looking for another employer. He even encouraged me to go ahead reiterating that he is really not ready to sponsor me.

“You are a fast learner. You can easily find a job. All you need is a break,” he said.

Crisologo handed me my last salary, which he said could tide me over while looking for a job. I got US$175, half of US$350 which I am supposed to get if I stayed for a week more.

“Thank you,” I said.

“Sure, come back whenever you like,” he said as we part ways.

* * *

My first day with Tanyu is a real working day. At ten in the morning, the office is already teeming with clients.

Unlike in Crisologo’s office where I did everything, Tanyu had several people helping him.

There is Lisa, who helped him with secretarial tasks. She was a nurse in the Philippines and had yet to pass the nursing board exam here in California so she could be petitioned as an immigrant worker.

Oliver processed family based petitions. Then there is another lawyer, David Concepcion, who had a successful law practice in the Philippines but strangely decided not to take the bar exam in California. At his current age, I doubted if he is still inclined to take the state bar.

Concepcion is good at research and presentation, especially in deportation cases. The best I could say. It was he who handled almost all of Tanyu’s deportation cases, many of which had been approved in favor of the client.

Initially, I found myself doing the secretary’s job, directing traffic in the office for new or walk-in clients and the regular ones who came for consultation or follow-ups. Once in a while, I would take dictations from him. More often than not, Tanyu would just give me a recorded dictation to transcribe.

There were two computers in the office, one for Tanyu, and one for Lisa and I.

It was past seven when my first day at work ended. Tanyu treated me to dinner at a Chinese restaurant. Before I went home, he gave me a hundred dollar. He said he would pay me US$1,400 a month and the US$100 is reward for a job well done that day.

I am on cloud nine after hearing about my salary. Imagine, after starting out at US$500 a month with my former employer, I will now earn triple that amount. I couldn’t believe the blessings I got. I am weeping in the bus while on my way home.

* * *

After a week, I am totally immersed in work at the office. I got some immigration cases from Oliver and helped him with them, although Tanyu had instructed me to concentrate on labor certifications.

In between processing petitions and labor certifications, I helped Lisa transcribe correspondence into the computer, took down information from new clients and once in a while answered queries from clients over the phone.

Initially, everything is moving along right on track, or maybe that only seems to be since I am new. As the days passed by, problems start to appear one after the other.

The filing system at the office isn’t working well. When a particular case file is needed, we had to search the entire office to find it and yet this unbelievable system or “non-system” didn’t diminish Tanyu a bit. He is so good that clients kept coming to him.

To give satisfactory answers to clients who are doing follow ups, either by calling or coming to the office, we had to refer to their case files.

Nevertheless, there are times when, after flipping randomly through some folders, we will find out that that particular cases had not been acted on either because the client had not pursued it, or that the clients hadn’t provided the necessary information or document, or maybe their folder had been shelved unintentionally, or simply because there is no progress on the case and that there is nothing to report about. In these instances, we have to be creative enough to come up with every imaginable explanation short of admitting that the paper had yet to be filed with the immigration office or had been inadvertently overlooked (which is very rare) due to the volume of cases being handled by the law firm.

Yes, Tanyu had enough staff to make the office operations run smooth enough to prevent anything from getting out of control.

According to some of my friends from other immigration law offices, serious problems usually occur when there are only one or two employees doing all the work. This is so because the employer is saving money and does not want to hire enough people to do the job. Unfortunately, the savings come at the expense of the clients, who, most of the time, had put their lives into the hands of what they hoped is a responsible law firm.

Understandably Tanyu would not want to talk with clients who were following up by phone, especially when there is nothing substantial going on their particular case. But some clients never accept “no” for an answer.

There are clients who peppered the office with calls and Tanyu would instruct his secretary to tell them that he is attending a court hearing, in a meeting, or busy with a client. Whenever Tanyu’s evasion becomes obvious, clients get angry and vent their anger to whoever they are talking with on the line.

Slowly, I am not only learning about the immigration industry but also how to make excuses to clients in my bid to protect Tanyu, the office and my job.

* * *

When Lisa went back to the Philippines and Oliver was told to stop reporting for work for a while, I was left alone to do almost everything in the office. I didn’t mind being left alone for it gave me the opportunity to learn a lot. Indeed, I learned how to process family-based petitions, file application for extension of stay, file application for naturalization, and file for employment authorization, not to mention the processing of labor certifications on which I had been instructed to concentrate. I also learned how to prepare affidavits of support.

Apart from these varied responsibilities, I am asked to write follow-up letters, correspondence and occasional feature articles for publication. In short, I became a jack-of-all-trades or someone who does an an all-around job.

Actually, I am not surprised to be a Jack of all trades for this is normal anywhere in L.A., in fact in all of California if not the entire United States. It is normal for an office, a department store, or even a donut store to have only one or two employees doing almost everything.

In a way, this practice helped fostering the image that labor is expensive in America. But, in another way, this is also where the exploitation of an employee or worker starts, especially if the hired labor is working without legal papers.

* * *

Once, Tanyu asked me to go with him to a court hearing in San Diego. His driver, a Mexican, drove the Nissan Pathfinder which my lawyer-boss purchased a few weeks prior. He told me to bring along a box of folders containing labor certification cases.

Along the way, we discuss the contents of the folders individually, analyzing what should be done, what papers are missing, how it should be processed, etc. The work etiquette that Tanyu showed during this time is another the thing that I had learned from him, one that I treasured most.

It is noontime when we arrived in San Diego. We headed straight to Anthony’s Restaurant along the Harbor Drive where I settled on a chopped salmon burger and a soda. I am and didn’t even bother asking Tanyu and the driver what they had.

For about an hour, the Mexican driver and I waited by the door of the courthouse on the 8th floor of the First National Bank before Tanyu came back. On our way home, we passed a checkpoint and it is hard not to notice that on both sides of the road are big spotlights and the several white and green-striped border patrol cars and vans.

Drivers as well as the passengers are subjected to random inspections. As instructed, we stopped right where the border patrol officer was standing.

I am sitting in the back of the van. The officer glanced at the three of us. There is only silence. I had my California ID with me so I know I had nothing to worry about, albeit I am a little nervous. The one thing that gave me courage is the thought that I am in the hands of a good immigration lawyer. The officer motioned to us to move ahead.

On another trip, we went to the Lancaster Immigration Prison with the Mexican driver at the wheels again. Very seldom did Tanyu drive. The Mexican is a steady driver and I felt safer with him than with Tanyu behind the wheels. As usual, along the way, Tanyu and I would tackle labor certifications cases one by one.

The prison compound is called the Mira Loma Facility, a detention center for illegal immigrants. Tanyu didn’t take me with him inside the compound. He joked that I might not be able to get out afterwards, which is probably true. The driver and I waited patiently in the van.

Mira Loma is more like a desert. There are few houses and it is summer time. The vast tract of land looked like it is burning from the intense heat. I could almost feel how hot it is out in the middle of that empty stretch of land before us. I then imagined the terrible heat that the migrants endure while crossing to the US border via the desert. In my mind, I could see them with the mirages in the distance.

Due to the long wait aggravated by the heat, we, the driver and I, fell asleep. After an hour or so, Tanyu came back. He informed us that there are several Filipinos in the detention cell, although he had gone there to represent Alfonso Trinidad, a Nicaraguan, who had been detained by the INS for having physically abused his U.S. citizen wife.

* * *

One hot summer in July, on my way to the office in Paramount, the driver of one of the Metro buses plying the Los Angeles-Disneyland route overcharged me by a dollar.

Normally, when a Metro bus passes the freeways, passengers are charged an extra dollar for the trip. It is my second time to have boarded his bus in a week. When I got into the bus, the driver told me to pay two dollars instead of the usual one.

“Why should I pay two dollars?”

“Because I say so,” the driver stared at me threateningly.

“I pay only a dollar for the express,” I said as I stood on the stairwell beside him while he drove.

“No, you pay two dollars,” throwing a pointed glance at me again.

“If I ride again tomorrow, how much will I pay?”

“Two. And it will never change,” he said with finality.

I knew I was being bullied but in Metro buses, drivers are King. The bus is their Kingdom and their rules prevail. I inserted US$2 into the box against my will and settled on a seat where I could have a good look at the driver.

Nobody heard me say a word after I left the driver on his throne. I got off at Paramount before the bus went on its usual route to Disneyland.

At home, I couldn’t forget what the driver had done to me. I felt he had put one over me. I am so pissed that the next morning, I purposely waited for that particular bus to get its driver’s badge number.

I intend to write a letter of complaint to the Metro Transit Authority, the most civilized thing I could do even if I had this urge to puncture his tires or do anything drastic just to get even.

However, I knew I couldn’t do what I had in mind because of the unwelcome consequences it will bring me, given my current status in the country. So I consoled myself with this thought: “If only you were in my country, you would get the trouble you are asking for.”

He pulled over right at the bus stop on the corner of 6th and Broadway. It is 9:20 in the morning. I boarded his bus. He noticed that I was staring at his badge number stitched on his uniform, obviously memorizing it. When I was placing two dollar bills in the fare box, he stopped me.

“How much are you going to pay?” he asked.

“Two dollars,” I replied without smiling.

“How’d you know, you’re going to pay two?”

“You said so.” I was making direct eye contact with him and much as I wanted to punch him in the face I restrained myself.

“No,” he began to explain. “First time you took the bus, you said you’re going to Disneyland.”

“I didn’t say that. You did.”

“No,” he said with authority.

Didn’t I say drivers were Kings in their buses? I refrained from further argument.

“So, when you took my bus, I asked you to pay two dollars. Now, since you’ve paid two dollars more than you should have paid, the next time you’re going to Paramount, and you take my bus, don’t pay. And when you take my bus again the next time, don’t pay either, okay?”

I took my seat with self-satisfaction. He probably thought I am lucky that he setup this arrangement. Actually, it is he who is lucky for resolving the situation before I could file a complaint. I am pretty sure it will be trouble for him somehow, knowing the MTA will act on my complaint.

* * *

Juozapas already had a triple bypass. When he started having chest pains, his good friend, Ronnie thought it might be more of a heart problem again and drove him to the hospital. Ronnie didn’t have a driver’s license then and he admitted later that he took the risk because the life of someone very close to him is at stake.

It was Juozapas who helped him get a job. It turned out the chest pains is not due to a heart attack but a stroke that has already paralyzed half of his body.

Juozapas’ life was been saved though his speech became slurred. He got his green card after eight long years of hard labor at night at the Baltic Publication. But now that he is disabled, I couldn’t see how the green card could make him happy.

* * *

I reported for work on Memorial Day, mainly to get my salary and to turn over the US$1,500 that I made while Tanyu was in the Philippines.

On handing me my salary, which is always in cash, Tanyu asked if the amount was right? He had never asked that question before. Maybe he thought that he’d made a mistake, but I knew that he never made mistakes about money. I didn’t answer. I counted the cash and there is an extra US$100.

Knowing him to be generous for a good work done, I surmised that the extra amount is a reward for taking care of the office while he was way. I think he just want me to know that he gave me an extra hundred dollars. He had a hell of way taking care of his staff.

“Don’t leave early,” he hollered from his desk.

“We’ll watch Pearl Harbor at four.”

Tanyu loved to see movies. Whenever he wanted to get out of he monotony of the daily grind and the pressure of his work, he will invite us to see a movie.

One time, we went to see the movie Swordfish which stars John Travolta and Halle Berry.

While watching the movie, I realized that I have seen a segment of the film while it was being filmed. The scene is about a Metro bus being airlifted by helicopter from a busy street in downtown L.A.

Perhaps I am wrong and instead I am remembering one morning when I read in the paper that an Angel’s Flight car was lifted off its track and transported to a storage area while an investigation of its fatal crash was underway.

The airlifting of the bus may not have been part of the Swordfish but the incident did have some resemblance to the scenes in the movie. Still I thought that I’d really seen a bus.

I am on my way to Paramount at that time but the road leading to the bus stop is closed and I had to find a different route. I saw the usual motorcycle policemen directing traffic as they are assigned to movie productions in Los Angeles. Several roads are closed to the commuting public. There are a number of 20 or 40-footer vans parked along the road. These vans contained movie equipment and other things needed for movie-making. Up in the sky, I heard the distant whirring of the helicopter rotors.

Los Angeles is Hollywood. Everywhere, at almost any time of the day, one could see movies, advertisements or documentaries being filmed. Traffic could be rerouted anytime, buildings draped with cloth – white, blue, black or what have you – sidewalks or a whole block transformed to be covered with snow or water, or suddenly filled with classic and vintage cars, or converted into a slum, or anything one could think of.

If there are complaints from the neighborhood where filming is going on, I’m pretty sure the problems are addressed.

That’s Hollywood. That’s the way in here for how else could Hollywood be dubbed as the movie capital of the world if not for these privileges?

* * *

After seeing Swordfish at Bell Gardens, we went to Huntington Park where I had a taste of Mexico.

Huntington is basically a Hispanic community with 95 percent of the population made up of Latinos, mostly of Mexican origin. It used to be a predominantly white community but by the mid-1990s, the whites left and the Latinos filled up the vacuum.

We went to El Galo Giro. The ambiance is very Mexican due to the music and its predominantly Hispanic customers. Most people coming in and out of the restaurant are obviously Mexicans, judging from their boots, denim pants, printed polo shirts, cowboy hats and wide, fancy leather belts with big buckles on them.

We ordered aros, tortillas, cueritos menudo, and caldos y guisados plus slices of jalapeno, which were handed to us on tissue paper.

At least in Huntington Park, I am basically safe – but not if I were to venture down to Tijuana in Mexico for a more authentic Mexican atmosphere. If I did that, I might not be able to reenter the U.S. territory again. It will be then Adios amigo! for me.

Early in the morning, I read that emerging scientists have a consensus that “Sigmund Freud had been wrong in almost all-important aspects of his notions. The scientists said his notion of Oedipus complex is wrong, that dreams have hidden meanings is also wrong, and that only a fraction of neuroses are directly related to sex, contrary to his thesis that nearly all neuroses stem from sexual maladjustment and repressed perversions.”

Romy Morales
A veteran newsman, Romy is a recipient of the United States International Visitor's Program. He is a certified legal assistant and has a diploma in fiction and non-fiction writing from Long Ridge Writer's Group in Connecticut. He has an advertising degree from the Polytechnic University of the Philippines and is now based in the State of Alaska, U.S.A..

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