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Gideon and Rica Tonog being interviewed by the Filipino Reporter at the law office of Abad, Constancio & Mallonga in New York on Dec. 20.

 

Exclusive to the Filipino Reporter

A Toms River, N.J. couple facing deportation is wishing for a Christmas miracle.

Gideon and Rica Tonog, both 37, recently received a notice of voluntary departure from the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) following the denial of Rica’s application to adjust her working permit to permanent residency after the USCIS ruled that the petitioning company — a Fil-Am-owned staffing company — had no financial capability to sponsor.

Gideon, who was a dependent of Rica in her USCIS application, had previously lost his labor certification when his sponsoring company shut down following the 9/11 tragedy.

But the Tonogs want to stay in the United States, with Rica currently undergoing aggressive treatment for severe endometriosis and endometrial hyperplasia.

Gideon noted that doctors diagnosed his wife with uterine adenocarcinoma, which means her uterus has cancer cells.

“She has polyps covering her uterus, according to doctors,” he said.

Rica had two surgical procedures this year at Monmouth Medical Center, and is scheduled for a biopsy in March.

She previously had two miscarriages, which she now believes resulted from her medical condition.

“It’s like our whole world crumbled when we got the deportation order and found out that my wife has a life-threatening condition,” Gideon told the Filipino Reporter in an exclusive interview on Monday, with his wife Rica beside him, wiping away tears.

“We cried hard, the two of us, because we didn’t know what to do and we couldn’t tell anyone our situation,” he confided.

“This will probably be a sad Christmas for us, but we are not giving hope up and I am not giving up for my wife,” said the Negros Occidental native Gideon, an electrical and computer engineering graduate of San Carlos University in Cebu.

Rica is a marketing management graduate of St. Scholastica’s College in Manila.

She and Gideon worked at a large telecommunications company in the Philippines, where they met and fell in love, before Gideon moved to the U.S. in 2000, and Rica in 2004.

FALDEF to the rescue

Recently, however, the Tonogs saw some silver lining after consulting Filipino-American New York lawyer J.T. Mallonga, who is one of the founders of the New York-based Filipino American Legal Defense and Education Fund (FALDEF) composed of volunteer lawyers and leaders of the Fil-Am community.

Mallonga, who is part of the Abad, Constancio & Mallonga law firm, took on the case pro bono on behalf of FALDEF, and got a reprieve for the Tonogs on humanitarian grounds.

A Newark immigration court judge gave Mallonga until August 2011 to file for deferred action on deportation, which means the couple can stay temporarily without fear of being removed from the U.S.

“FALDEF stepped in to explore options to defer deportation while (Rica) is seeking medical treatment,” Mallonga said during a meeting with the Tonogs attended by FALDEF’s board members Nena Kaufman, Lito Pernia and Nimfa Tinana.

FALDEF, chaired by Robert Rivas, Esq., is a national organization dedicated to providing pro bono legal aid to such Filipino-American nationals who are suffering legal injustices by reason of their immigrant origins and status, and unable to employ and engage legal aid and assistance on account of poverty.

It is also designed to provide a forum for education, advocacy and scholarship aimed at educating and advancing the interests of the Fil-Am community on issues and matters pertinent to immigrant and civil rights.

“We feel strongly that if this couple was not assisted by FALDEF, they’ll be asked to go home prematurely and she (Rica) won’t get the proper treatment she needs at this stage,” Mallonga said.

 

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From left, lawyer J.T. Mallonga, president of the Filipino American Legal Defense and Education Fund (FALDEF); FALDEF board members Lito Pernia and Nena Kaufman; Gideon and Rica Tonog; and Nimfa Tinana, also a board member.  (Filipino Reporter photo)

 

Once the application for deferred action is approved, the couple can apply for work authorization pending the final outcome of their case.

At present, since losing their status, the Tonogs have been doing volunteer work for the Fil-Am community in Ocean County.

Rica, among other things, teaches Filipino language and culture to Fil-Am kids, while Gideon provides computer support for doctors and medical offices for a small fee.

With no insurance for costly medical expenses, the Tonogs have depleted their savings and are now facing financial straits.

Being out of status, Rica is not qualified for charity assistance.

“As much as possible, we try not to be a burden to others,” Rica said.

“But sometimes, you just feel helpless. That’s one of the reasons why we decided to come out in public.”

This Christmas, Gideon and Rica are celebrating Christmas with some Fil-Am families who invited them over, to cheer them up for the holidays.

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