July 03, 2016

Program joins Filipino vets with kin

Ninety-year-old Waipahu resident Narzal Concepcion was hopeful Saturday about a federal program allowing Filipino World War II veterans or their surviving spouses to bring family to the United States and bypass a backlogged immigration system that has left some waiting outside the country for more than 20 years.

“This program is very nice and it is very important to veterans,” said Concepcion, who served in the guerrilla forces during World War II and left the Army as a second lieutenant.

Concepcion, who used a walker to amble into a presentation about the program at the state Capitol on Saturday, said it would allow him to bring his son and daughter to Hawaii from the Philippines.

“They want to unite with me,” he said. “I’m already old. I’m 90 years old and they want to take care of me. I cannot walk well, and they want to assist me.”

U.S. Sen. Mazie Hirono, who led Saturday’s presentation, worked with the Obama administration to establish the program, called the Filipino World War II Veterans Parole program.

She said after being elected to the House in 2006, the first bill she introduced was one that would grant visas to family members of Filipino WWII veterans. Her bill was included in an immigration bill, but the House declined to hear it.

Undeterred, Hirono worked on an alternative — the parole program, which allows relatives to live in the U.S. while waiting for a visa.

“This is an important first step in allowing Filipino WWII veterans to be reunited with their children,” she told the group. “Many of you have been waiting decades. … Time is precious.”

The federal government began accepting applications under the Filipino World War II Veterans Parole Program on June 8 and will continue to accept applications for five years. Those who enter the U.S. through the parole program can stay for three years and may apply for an extension if they haven’t obtained a visa at the end of that period.

The application process takes about six months for the simplest cases, and Hirono urged veterans or their spouses to fill out an application as early as possible.

About 260,000 Filipino soldiers fought in World War II with the U.S. and were promised citizenship as veterans, which was not granted until 1990. Naturalized veterans could petition for visas for family members, but the visa process has been prolonged by backlogs, such as an annual cap on the number of people allowed from each country.

About 6,000 Filipino veterans of the war are still living in the country, and the parole program gives them the chance to be cared for by their families, Nevada U.S. Sen. Harry Reid said in an editorial about the program.

Ermalinda Gaudencio, 95, of Kalihi, who was an Army private in the Philippines during World War II, filed a petition for his only surviving child, Elena, to receive a U.S. visa more than 20 years ago, in 1994. Asked about having his daughter come to Hawaii from the Philippines, he gave a wide smile and said, “happy.”

His wife, Dawa Gaudencio, said she was grateful for the program because they have no other relatives in Hawaii to help her care for her aging husband.

“We need help,” she said. “I’m so scared because it’s only two of us … It helps so she can come right away.”

Visit uscis.gov/fwvp for more information about the application process.

By:  Rob Shikina
Source: Honolulu Star-Advertiser