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Hawaii, National Advocates Highlight Importance of New Policy That Will Reunite Filipino World War II Veterans With Family

Washington, D.C. – Following the White House announcement of a new policy that will reunite Filipino World War II veterans with their children, Hawaii and national advocates highlighted the importance of expediting the visa process for the families of the brave Filipino people who served our country:

“This is a day to celebrate,” said Mee Moua, president and executive director of Asian Americans Advancing Justice | AAJC. “Even though the U.S. government promised Filipino World War II veterans U.S. citizenship in recognition of their service and contributions to America, it took more than 50 years before they actually received citizenship.  Until now, the inhumanely long visa backlog has separated them from their children and denied them the opportunity to live together in the United States. We are grateful to the Obama Administration, and appreciate Sen. Hirono and other members of Congress for their leadership in  elevating this issue so that our veterans can be reunited with their families and receive the love and care they need during their golden years. It’s long past time the United States made good on its promise and we hope USCIS will implement this as soon as possible. ” 

“The National Council of Asian Pacific Americans (NCAPA) is heartened by the Administration’s announcement to ensure that Filipino veterans who sacrificed and fought for our country will be reunited with their families,” said Gregory Cendana, NCAPA chair and executive director of the Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance. “As these veterans get older, it is more important than ever that they receive care and support from their family members. We are grateful for Senator Hirono’s continued commitment to stand up for the veterans so they receive the benefits they deserve.”

“Senator Hirono has consistently been by our side as we’ve fought to unify the families of Filipino WWII veterans. It has been an emotional, decades-long ordeal. We appreciate her work in both the U.S. House and Senate and we are especially grateful to President Obama for utilizing his executive powers to provide expedited processing for the children of Filipino WWII veterans,” said Jane Clement, President, Congress of Visayan Organizations Foundation. “We will now do all we can to ensure families are aware of this new development and that they have the support needed to help file the appropriate applications and have the necessary documents to finally bring their families together.”

“For decades, Filipino WWII veterans and their families have lived in limbo waiting on a cumbersome and ineffective visa system. Senator Hirono has been a strong ally, fighting alongside these Filipino veterans since she took office in 2007, in the effort to reunite veterans with their families. We commend President Obama’s executive action and look forward to assisting with the parole process to unify families across the United States,” said Ben Acohido, Service Officer, VFW Post 1572 1st Filipino Infantry Regiment, U.S. Army, Veterans of Foreign Wars-Hawaii Chapter. 

Since her election to the U.S. House in 2006, Senator Hirono has pushed to end the visa backlog and expedite the visa process for the children of Filipino World War II veterans, including introducing the Filipino Veterans Family Reunification Act in the House in the 110th,

111th, and 112th Congresses while Senator Daniel K. Akaka introduced the same legislation in the Senate.  In the Senate, Senator Hirono worked with the Hawaii delegation to introduce the Filipino Veterans Family Reunification Act in the 113th Congress on a bipartisan basis, and then successfully included it in the Senate-passed Comprehensive Immigration Reform bill. This year, Senator Hirono again reintroduced the Filipino Veterans Family Reunification Act on a bipartisan basis with the Hawaii delegation and has continued pushing for its passage. Senator Hirono has been working with advocates and colleagues on finding an Administrative solution to reunite the families of Filipino World War II veterans. Prior to the White House announcement, Senator Hirono sent a letter to the President requesting that he take action by granting the sons and daughters of Filipino World War II veterans parole while they wait in the visa backlog.

Over the weekend, The Honolulu Star-Advertiser highlighted Senator Hirono’s long push on behalf of Filipino World War II veterans and what the policy change will mean for veterans and their children in Hawaii and across the country. Read the full article below:

Honolulu Star-Advertiser: Filipino vets get boost in bringing kids to U.S.

By Rosemarie Bernardo

July 18, 2015

A new immigration reform policy that aims to help Filipino-American World War II?veterans bring their adult children to the U.S. from the Philippines is now in effect.

The policy announced this week by the White House is among recommendations to improve the immigration system as part of President Barack Obama’s executive action last November. The Department of Homeland Security led an interagency effort to develop recommendations.

In an emailed statement, Sen. Mazie Hirono, who made reunification for veterans and their children one of her top priorities, said, “Many Filipino veterans have waited decades to be reunited with their children — the administration’s action is the right thing to do for these brave people who served our country. 

Due to the enormous backlog of the family-based immigration visa process, the wait time to reunify with family members in the U.S. is more than 20 years.

A report released by the White House, “Modernizing & Streamlining Our Legal Immigration System for the 21st Century,” recommends strengthening the humanitarian system to allow certain family members of Filipino veterans, who are currently in the family immigration backlogs, to seek parole so they can care for their aging veteran family members in the U.S.

According to the report, parole under the Immigration and National Act allows individuals to come to the U.S. temporarily “based upon urgent humanitarian reasons or significant public benefit.”

The recommendation calls for the Department of Homeland Security to create a parole program through which U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services and State Department officials will collaborate to guide applicants on the process. Decisions will be made on a case-by-case basis.

An estimated 5,000 to 6,000 Filipino-American WWII veterans live in the U.S. Of that figure, approximately 300 veterans live in Hawaii. Ronald Han, director of the state Office of Veteran Services, said there could be more Filipino-American WWII?veterans in the state.

Regarding the new policy, Han said, “I’m happy. This is a breakthrough.”

“It’s a long time coming,” he said, adding that he hopes the Obama administration will soon provide information on eligibility requirements so aging veterans can be assisted as soon as possible.

Veteran Art Caleda, 91, of Ewa Beach said he petitioned in the mid-1990s to bring his children to the U.S. from the Philippines. The petitions were approved but no visas were issued. “We waited. Until now we have not received any visa.”

“We are all aging,” said Caleda, former president of the Hawaii Chapter of WWII Filipino-American Veterans, of his fellow veterans, adding they need their children to help care for them.

Because of the backlog, many veterans in the U.S. have returned to the Philippines to be with their families. Veterans have died without the chance of having their sons and daughters join them in the U.S., Caleda said Friday in a phone interview from Pittsburgh.

In a letter sent Tuesday to Obama by Hirono seeking his action to grant humanitarian parole to children of veterans while they wait for the visa, she said, “As our World War II veterans age, they — like most elderly Americans — become more reliant on their families for care. Given that many Filipino veterans continue to experience difficulty obtaining veterans’ benefits for their service, it is particularly important that they have their children with them to assist with the care that they deserve.”

In 1941 more than 260,000 Filipino soldiers responded to President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s call to arms in WWII.

President George H.W. Bush signed the Immigration Act of 1990, which offered naturalized citizenship to Filipino World War II?veterans. Approximately 26,000 became U.S. citizens, but the law did not allow the veterans to bring their children with them to the U.S.

For many years Hawaii’s congressional delegation pushed to reunite families of WWII Filpino-American veterans. Hirono said, “We made a promise to these individuals, and expediting reunification with their children through parole brings us one significant step close in fulfilling that promise.”

Eric Lachica, volunteer executive director of the American Coalition for Filipino Veterans in Virginia, said details of the program eligibility requirements have to be fleshed out. “I’m concerned about what the parole requirements will be. You have to demonstrate hardship by the petitioner that might be a burden on the veteran or the widow,” he said during a phone interview Friday from Maryland.