Born in the Philippines, but Georgia is home to this immigrant fighting for DACA

Raymond Partolan, 24, identifies himself as an American, Georgian, and a southerner. He's also a recipient of the endangered Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. Born in the Philippines, Partolan's parents brought him to the United States when he was 15 months old. Now he's working as an immigration paralegal in an Atlanta law firm.

Raymond Partolan lifted his denim pant leg a few inches to reveal more of his brown boots.

He offered an apology for his casual attire; it’s Friday — the one weekday where he can wear what makes him feel most comfortable to work at the Atlanta-area law office.

He loves country music. The background picture on his cell phone depicts Georgia’s state flag. The state motto — “wisdom, justice, moderation” — is tattooed across his shoulder.

“After being an American and identifying as a Georgian, thirdly my sense of identity is grounded as being a Southerner,” said Partolan. “I love the best parts of the culture here.”

Ask this 24-year-old, who grew up in Macon, where he belongs and he doesn’t mention his birth country. He left the Philippines as a 15-month-old baby. His mother and father, a physical therapist, wanted a chance at a better life in the United States.

Georgia, he said, is the only place he’s ever known.

Now Partolan, and thousands of other young, undocumented immigrants who live here, is grappling with the threat that it may not always be home.

President Donald Trump pledged to dismantle Obama-era immigration protections such as the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, the program that allows Partolan to receive a work permit, a driver’s license, and has given him a sense of safety.

Volunteer Jongwon Lee (L) and Asian Americans Advancing Justice program associate Raymond Partolan (C) talked with Johns Creek homeowner Dr. Ahmed Baosman at his home last May. Partolan was under the protections of Obama-era immigration policies, which are being rescinded under President Donald Trump. STEVE SCHAEFER / SPECIAL TO THE AJC

Last month, President Trump announced he intended to phase out DACA, and unless Congress acts Partolan will be at risk.

“There was this sense of hope because now with the DACA program’s repeal, the ball really is in Congress’ court. And I personally am cautiously optimistic that Congress will decide to act this time because there’s never been this sense of urgency,” Partolan said.

His DACA paperwork expires in August.

“On a personal level, I’m doing as much as I can to save as much money as I can because when that day comes I will not be able to work legally in the U.S.,” he said. “On an advocacy level, I’ve really been trying to fire up all of the undocumented people and DACA recipients around me.”

Many people don’t know that DACA recipients aren’t just from Central and South America, he said. South Korea and the Phillipines are both in the top 10 countries of origin.

In the Asian community there’s a “unique stigma” attached to being in the United States illegally because of the stereotype that Asian-Americans are the best-performing, highest-earning, most studious minority group, he said. He said his parents came to the country on a legal visa but their Green Card applications to become permanent residents were later denied.

Partolan said he felt ostracized by other Asian immigrants. Their illegal status was a “blemish” and “instantly we became alienated,” he said.

“We were a family that no one wanted to be around,” he said.

DACA gave Partolan a chance to emerge from the shadows, though he said his undocumented parents remain at risk.

After graduating from Mercer University, he worked for Asian Americans Advancing Justice-Atlanta, a legal advocacy organization.

He is currently a paralegal at a law firm specializing in immigration cases.

“Now, more than ever, I see myself as an advocate for all undocumented communities,” he said.

In Other News