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January 30, 2005

Deaf, blind interpreter fights to stay in U.S.

From: The Argus - Fremont,CA,USA - Jan 30, 2005

Filipino would have been a citizen at birth if promise to his father had been kept after WWII, attorney says

By Barry Shatzman, STAFF WRITER

FREMONT — Just as Annie Sullivan did for Helen Keller, he signs into the hands of those who are blind and deaf, bringing the world to them. His Filipino father fought for the United States in World War II, expecting it would mean American citizenship for him and his family.

Gerry Dulalia has contributed to society and played by the rules. But the government is fighting to deport him.

For the past six years, the Ohlone College interpreter has been caught in a web of immigration laws, reneged promise and bad luck. On Tuesday, he will be the subject

of a deportation hearing. If it goes as his

attorney expects, Dulalia will have four months to return voluntarily to his native Philippines.

Dulalia, 39, himself deaf, came to Fremont from the Philippines in 1987 to study computer science at Ohlone.

"I was attracted to the deaf community in Fremont. It's kind of known all over the place," he said.

He came under a student visa. But he rightfully should have been here as a citizen, according to Marcia Perez, the attorney representing him.

Dulalia's father served in the U.S. armed forces from 1941 to 1945, under a promise of U.S. citizenship from President Franklin Roosevelt. It was a promise that, in 1946, Congress would take back from the

200,000 Filipinos who had joined the U.S. troops.

A 1990 court decision declared that the U.S. government had to give citizenship to those originally promised. Pablo Zuniga Dulalia, Gerry's father, came to the United States three years later. In 1995, he finally became a U.S. citizen.

In 1999, with Gerry Dulalia's student visa having expired, the government began trying to deport him. By then, he already had started working as a translator in Ohlone's deaf studies department.

Because his father was now a citizen, Dulalia would have been allowed to remain in the U.S., according to the law, his attorney says. But in April 2001, about three months before the scheduled hearing, Pablo Dulalia died.

Gerry Dulalia still could have stayed to support his mother. But the hearing was delayed because his attorney at the time was fighting cancer. And before the new hearing could take place in 2002, his mother died unexpectedly.

That left Dulalia, who would have been born a U.S. citizen had Congress not broken its promise, with no grounds to stay.

"When they died, everything died with them," Perez said.

Dulalia, whose life centers around Fremont's deaf community, said life would be difficult for him in his native Philippines.

"I would be isolated on my brothers' farm. There is no deaf community there," he said.

But Dulalia is not the only one who would suffer, said Joe McLaughlin, deaf studies dean at Ohlone. Besides Dulalia, there are only about a dozen others in the area who sign professionally for the blind. And he is the only such interpreter at Ohlone.

"If we were to lose Gerry, we might lose deaf-blind students," McLaughlin said.

Perez said immigration law provides no room for discretion by judges.

"Even if the judge was the most sympathetic judge in the world, he or she couldn't do anything," she said.

She said Dulalia's best hope is for the Department of Homeland Security to drop the case on humanitarian grounds.

Several members of the Ohlone community, including McLaughlin and college President Doug Treadway, have written letters in support of Dulalia.

Perez said she has done everything she can. She contacted U.S. Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer several months ago, but neither offered to help. She said she received a reply from Rep. Pete Stark, but that was just asking for more information. And she received it only this week.

"It's too little, too late," she said.

Letters in support of Gerry Dulalia can be sent via e-mail to Perez will compile them and present them to government officials.

Barry Shatzman covers Ohlone College for The Argus. He can be reached at (510) 353-7003, or

© 2005 The Argus