By: Elaine Lehman
This past May, two bills S1598 were introduced by Sen. Mazie K. Hirono [D-HI] and Sen. Lisa Murkowski [R-AK] H.R. 2908 introduced by Rep. Ed Case [D-HI]] and Rep Don Young [R-AK]. These bills, both the Filipino Veterans Family Reunification Act of 2019, seek to expedite the visa process for the Filipino WWII veterans’ now aged children. However, for many of them, moving to the United States meant leaving their children and other family members behind. Rep. Mike Thompson (CA-05), who co-sponsored H.R. 2908 stated, “Our Filipino World War II veterans deserve our utmost respect, many of whom answered President Franklin Roosevelt’s call-to-arms but have long been denied their benefits and the recognition they are owed for their service. That’s why I am honored to coauthor legislation that will allow our Filipino World War II veterans to be more quickly reunited with their children, many of whom have been waiting dozens of years for this assistance. I’m proud to work to help our local Filipino-American community and will continue doing all I can to honor the sacrifice of our veterans.”
More than 260,000 Filipino and Filipino American soldiers served under the United States military during World War II. The Filipino WWII veterans were promised U.S. citizenship in 1942 but only gained this right in 1990. About 26,000 of them were allowed to move to the United States and eventually became U.S. Citizens. Their children, however, were not granted citizenship. Currently, veterans must file for a family visa to be reunited with their children in the United States. Because of an antiquated immigration system with limited numbers of family visas available each year, it can take more than 20 years for these applications to be reviewed. The Philippines has one of the longest waiting periods for family visas. In 2018, it was reported that the Philippines ranked behind Mexico for having the biggest number of family-based petitions, at 333,564 Filipinos waiting to join their families in the U.S. The length of time it would take to clear this backlog is almost 28 years. The Filipino Veterans Family Reunifi cation Acts seeks to exempt the veterans’ children, approximately 20,000 individuals, from the numerical limitation on immigrant visas.
In May 2016, after years of advocacy by Senator Hirono, the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) announced the new parole program for family members of Filipino World War II veterans, to alleviate the long wait times for family petitions. However, the program is limited and provides no guarantee that these veterans will be reunited with their families.
Under the parole program, the children of the Filipino veterans could be allowed to be admitted into the United States and live here while they are waiting for their priority dates to become current. Once an immigrant visa becomes available for them, they can then apply to adjust their immigration status to permanent resident and get their green card while they are already in the country. Parole may also be available to beneficiaries who are currently in the United States and who may have overstayed their visas. However, they will need to leave the country and be interviewed abroad by a USCIS or Department of State offi cer in order to be issued travel documents to come back to the U.S.
To qualify under this program, the veteran must fall under the following list which was prepared by the personnel division of the United States Army:
Served honorably in an active duty status within the Philippine Army during the World War II occupation and liberation of the Philippines;
Served honorably in an active duty status within a recognized guerrilla unit; or
Served honorably in an active duty status within the Philippine scouts or any other component of the United States Armed Forces in the Far East at any time during the period beginning September 1, 1939 and ending December 31, 1946.
Because It Is Fair.
The U.S. citizen veteran or the veteran’s spouse must have already filed Form I-130 for the family member in order for them to request parole. These relatives must be their adult sons and daughters or brothers and sisters. Spouses and minor children under 21 of the veteran or the veteran’s spouse do not qualify under the parole program because they are considered “immediate relatives” for whom immigrant visas are readily available. To apply for parole, they must file Form I-131 and pay the $360 filing fee for each beneficiary.
As U.S. Citizens or green card holders, these veterans were eligible to petition their family members to join them in the United States. However, given the long backlog for visa petitions, the waiting time for the families to be reunited could sometimes take as long as 11 years for their adult sons and daughters and 23 years for their brothers and sisters. Many petitioners passed away even before their relatives could immigrate to the United States.
There are less than six thousand surviving Filipino World War II veterans in the United States. These families have long been separated and deserve to be reunited. Philippines, part of the U.S. until 1946, and Filipino WWII veterans are due recognition and we support these endeavors. Their rights as U.S. citizens are not secondary to the rights of other American citizens.
We commend the advocacy of Sen. Mazie K. Hirono [D-HI], Sen. Lisa Murkowski [R-AK], Rep. Ed Case [D-HI]] and Rep Don Young [R-AK]. We are calling on our own state representatives to help us honor our World War II veterans and support these critical actions.