My Immigration Story: From Mindoro, Philippines to State College, PA

by Carlos Briggs Camandang

My immigration story began even before I was born when my aunt petitioned my father in 1983. At that time, my parents only had my older sister, who was born in 1980. I was born in 1991 and my younger sister was born in 1997. In 2005, 22 years later, the petition papers filed by my aunt in 1983 to sponsor my family finally became current. Before 2005, my family had completely forgotten that our immigration applications were being processed because of how long it had been since my aunt filed the petition papers. As soon as we received the notification papers in 2005, we began the final steps of the process of immigrating to the United States. After going through medical examinations, filling out and filing different kinds of affidavits and documents, and interviewing with a consular officer in the United States Embassy in Manila, we were finally granted a visa to immigrate from the Philippines to the United States in 2006. Unfortunately, my older sister in 2005 was no longer considered a child[i] under the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) and was married, making her ineligible to become a derivative and join my family to move to the United States. In March 2006, my family, without my older sister, emigrated from Mindoro, Philippines to Long Beach, California, United States.

One of the pillars of United States immigration law is family reunification, but due the backlogs in the family-based immigration system, families sometimes do not reunite until after more than 20 years, just like my family. This backlog develops because “the number of visas available by law each year is less than the number of prospective immigrants getting in line to wait for a visa.”[ii] As of January 2017, the wait under the F-4 category[iii] under the family-based immigration system from the Philippines is over 23 years.[iv] If family reunification is one of the pillars of the U.S. immigration law, it should not take 23 years for families to reunite. Since Congress last revisited the family-based immigration system in 1990, almost three decades ago, a revision of this section of the statute is long overdue.[v]

One of my inspirations of attending law school is the personal knowledge I have of how difficult and exhausting the immigration process can be. The final steps of our immigration process were everything but easy. All of the documents needed be reviewed carefully and some even needed to be revised or be approved by a government agency. I remember when we were in Manila on our way to the U.S. embassy for the interview for the visa application, my parents were very anxious because they were afraid that they would not understand and not be able to respond properly in English. I also remember that the consular officer asked me and my little sister whether we were my parents’ real children because of the unusual age gaps between me and my siblings. When my family arrived in the United States, we experienced dramatic culture shock, especially because of the language barrier. There is a huge difference between learning and knowing how to speak English in the Philippines and using it in everyday life in the United States.

Because of these personal challenges and experiences, I was motivated to go to law school and help contribute to the immigrant community. One of the key characteristics of being a good lawyer is to be able to represent your client well by articulating his or her voice eloquently and effectively. From my experience, many recent immigrants have a hard time expressing their voices and opinions. I would like to give a voice to those who are unable to express themselves, particularly immigrants who face language barriers. I would like to help families reunite and resolve immigration issues that my future clients may have.

The Penn State Law’s Center for Immigrants Rights’ Clinic (“Clinic”) is one of the reasons why I decided to move to the east coast and attend Penn State Law. The Clinic is supervised by Professor Shoba Sivaprasad Wadhia, Samuel Weiss Faculty Scholar and Clinical Professor of Law. In addition to being enrolled in the Clinic in fall 2016, I was also enrolled in Professor Wadhia’s Immigration Law class. I found taking these two courses concurrently to be particularly beneficial because I was able to learn core concepts in Immigration Law and then apply these concepts in practical and experiential ways in the Clinic. Both the Immigration Law class and the Clinic reinforced my interest in immigration law.

In the Clinic, my partner and I took the lead on the Community and Education Outreach Project. In fall 2016, this project consisted of two different collaborations: first with Welcoming America and second, with Bibles, Badges and Business (“BBB”). The Clinic in fall 2016 became the first collegiate member of Welcoming America, which is a national organization that hopes to inspire to build a community that embraces immigrants and fosters opportunity for all.[vi] Welcoming America connects a broad network of nonprofits and local governments and supports them in developing plans, programs, and policies that transform their communities into vibrant places where people respect each other and everyone’s talents are valued and cultivated.[vii] On the other hand, BBB is a network of faith, law enforcement, and business leadership that promotes immigration policies that will provide opportunity, skills, and lawful status to new Americans.[viii] Through roundtables, strategy sessions, and visits to lawmakers, BBB has advocated for comprehensive immigration reform that respects the rule of law, human rights, and economic growth.[ix]

These two collaborations enriched my law school experience by giving me practical experiences and by strengthening my skillsets such as legal research, public speaking, professional judgment, problem solving, leadership, and collaboration. During the Welcoming America event, my partner and I presented an Asylum 101 info-session attended by students and State College community members. The goal of the presentation was to give information to audience members who might benefit from the basic information we delivered about asylum and refugee law in the United States. We hoped to debunk any misconceptions regarding refugee and asylum law by providing accurate data and by sharing personal stories and actual events that affect the refugee crisis in the world. An LLM (Master of Laws Degree) student from Honduras shared her experiences as a public defender in her home country. She was able to paint an effective picture of how U.S. refugee and asylum laws affect her fellow Honduran citizens.

During the BBB event, the Clinic hosted a forum at which leaders from the business, labor, faith, and legal perspectives offered their points-of-view regarding comprehensive immigration reform. I was fortunate enough to represent the Clinic and offered my perspective regarding comprehensive immigration reform from the legal standpoint, particularly focusing on the reforms needed in family-based and employment-based immigration systems. I was also able to relate my personal immigration story as to why reforms are needed in the family-based immigration system. When the audience members learned that it took 22 years for my family to immigrate to the United States from the Philippines, they were able to recognize the importance of immigration reform.[x] The audience members were able to see through my story the difficulty many immigrant families go through because of separation, which has a direct negative impact towards the productiveness and effectiveness in the assimilation process of new Americans. Having the opportunity to speak to the audience directly was an effective way of delivering the message because it gave them a personal connection to the problem, rather than just reading about it on a pamphlet or a website. Being part of the BBB panel was one of my most favorite moments in the Clinic, where my personal story helped others recognize that there is a problem that needs to be addressed relating to the family-based immigration system.

My experience at the Clinic gave me the proper tools to become an effective spokesperson and advocate, which will be especially helpful for my career in the future, whether it be in immigration or a different field. The Clinic has also taught me to become compassionate and to value the relationships I form along the way. I have been in the United States for more than 10 years now and I am excited for what I can contribute in my community in the future once I am a practicing attorney.

[i] As defined by Immigration and Nationality (McCarran) Act §101(b)(1), 8 U.S.C.A. § 1101(b)(1), a child is under the age of 21 and unmarried.

[ii] Immigration Backlogs are Separating American Families, National Immigration Forum (Jul. 26, 2012), (2012).

[iii] Immigration and Nationality (McCarran) Act § 203(a)(4), 8 U.S.C.A. § 1153(a)(4) (2006).

[iv] Visa Bulletin for January 2017, United States Department of State, Bureau of Consular Affairs (Dec. 12, 2016),

[v] Immigration Act of 1990 (Immigration and Nationality Act of 1990).

[vi] Welcoming America, (last visited Oct. 20, 2017).

[vii] Welcoming America, (last visited Oct. 20, 2017).

[viii] Natural Allies for Immigration Reform, National Immigration Forum,

[ix] Natural Allies for Immigration Reform, National Immigration Forum,

[x] Meredith S.H. Higashi & Ronald H. Lee, Family Ties: A Closer Look at the Problem with Our Family-Based Immigration System, Immigration Impact (Oct. 27, 2009),


Citation: Carlos Briggs Camandang, My Immigration Story: From Mindoro, Philippines to State College, PA, in Back Into the Future of Immigration: Personal Stories by the Penn State Law Center for Immigrants' Rights Clinic (Shoba Sivaprasad Wadhia ed., 2018).

Carlos Briggs Camandang

Carlos Camandang immigrated with his family to the United States in 2006 from the Philippines. He graduated from the University of California, Los Angeles and Penn State Law, where he was a student at the Center for Immigrants’ Rights Clinic. He is starting as an associate at McCormick Barstow in Fresno, California in September 2018.

Class of 2018