September 18, 2019

Hirono, Senate Democrats Urge Trump Administration to Rescind Termination of the Filipino World War II Veteran Parole Program

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Senator Mazie K. Hirono (D-Hawaii) and 13 Senate Democrats wrote to Ken Cuccinelli, the acting director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, urging him to rescind the Trump Administration’s decision to terminate the Filipino World War II Veterans Parole Program (FWVP).

“Over the past two years, the Trump administration has repeatedly attacked immigrants, and once again, its anti-immigrant disposition is reflected in this harmful and unnecessary action to end a program that helps elderly World War II veterans—who are now in their late 80s and 90s—reunite with their children and siblings. By abruptly and cruelly terminating this program nearly two years early, you are breaking yet another promise to Filipino World War II veterans and denying them the relief they deserve for their service to our country. We strongly urge you to reverse your decision to keep these veterans separated from their families by ending the Filipino World War II Veterans Parole Program,” the Senators wrote.

Filipino veterans were granted citizenship in recognition of their service to the United States during World War II. Many of their children, however, were not. Due to the volume of immigrant visa applications from the Philippines, it can take more than 20 years for families to be reunited. Under the FWVP program, the adult children of Filipino World War II veterans, along with their spouses and children under age 21, can finally be together in the United States while they await an available immigrant visa. Senator Hirono was instrumental in creating the program in 2016 and encouraged the Trump Administration to continue the program in an April 2017 letter.

In July, Senator Hirono met for a second time with the Milla Family – the first family in Hawaii to benefit from the FWVP program in 2017. After waiting more than 20 years for an immigrant visa, the FWVP program enabled Jeorge Milla to be reunited with his mother in Hawaii while awaiting his visa. Jeorge and his wife Juseline are now employed in Hawaii, their two daughters Jasmine and Jeraldine are attending college, and they have all earned their green cards.

In May, Senator Hirono reintroduced bipartisan, bicameral legislation to build on the FWVP program to reunite Filipino World War II veterans with their families in the United States. Senator Hirono has introduced the bipartisan legislation in the 113th114th, and 115th Congresses and successfully added it as an amendment to the Senate’s 2013 bipartisan comprehensive immigration reform bill, S. 744, which passed the Senate. 

Joining Senator Hirono on the letter to Acting Director Cuccinelli are U.S. Senators Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Jacky Rosen (D-Nev.), Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.), Kamala Harris (D-Calif), Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.), Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Tim Kaine (D-Va.), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass), Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Chris Coons (D-Del.), and Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif) 

The full text of the letter to Acting Director Cuccinelli is available here and below:

The Honorable Kenneth T. Cuccinelli II

Acting Director

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services

U.S. Department of Homeland Security

20 Massachusetts Avenue NW M.S. 2090

Washington, D.C. 20529

 

Dear Acting Director Cuccinelli:

We write to express our serious concerns about your recent decision to terminate the Filipino World War II Veterans Parole Program. Over the past two years, the Trump administration has repeatedly attacked immigrants, and once again, its anti-immigrant disposition is reflected in this harmful and unnecessary action to end a program that helps elderly World War II veterans—who are now in their late 80s and 90s—reunite with their children and siblings. By abruptly and cruelly terminating this program nearly two years early, you are breaking yet another promise to Filipino World War II veterans and denying them the relief they deserve for their service to our country. We strongly urge you to reverse your decision to keep these veterans separated from their families by ending the Filipino World War II Veterans Parole Program.

In 2016, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) created this program to reunite aging veterans with their children and siblings, in recognition of “the extraordinary contributions and sacrifices of Filipino veterans who fought for the United States during World War II” and the benefits of enabling “such elderly veterans and their spouses to obtain care and support from their family members abroad.” World War II ended nearly 75 years ago, and yet these veterans still have not received the full benefits they were promised. Today, there are fewer than 6,000 surviving Filipino veterans, and many are still waiting to reunite with their children. 

During World War II, more than 260,000 Filipino soldiers answered the United States’ call to arms to fight for the United States. These Filipino soldiers fought shoulder to shoulder with U.S. servicemembers, and many of them died in fierce and bloody battles. The sacrifices of these valiant Filipino soldiers played a critical role in the war’s outcome. Despite their bravery, honor, and service under the U.S. flag, Filipino World War II veterans were not awarded U.S. citizenship until President George H.W. Bush signed the Immigration Act of 1990 – more than 40 years after they risked their lives for our Nation.

Moreover, when these veterans became citizens, they were separated from their children and certain family members who were caught in the backlog of immigration visas, which exceeds twenty years. This meant that, even though their family members were approved for family-based immigrant visas, these elderly veterans were forced to wait decades to reunite with their children – years that many of them did not have.

To address these “urgent humanitarian concerns,” USCIS established the Filipino World War II Veterans Parole Program to allow the elderly Filipino veterans to petition for humanitarian parole for certain family members who have been approved for family-based immigrant visas but are stuck in the current visa backlog. Under the program, if USCIS determines that these family members meet the conditions of the program and “merit a favorable exercise of discretion,” it may issue parole so that the family members “may wait in the United States until they are able to adjust status under existing immigration laws.” The initial period for the program was set for five years, subject to renewal. At minimum, these families expected to be able to submit applications for at least five years—or until June 7, 2021, as USCIS had previously confirmed. 

We were deeply troubled to learn, however, that USCIS recently decided to prematurely terminate the Filipino World War II Veterans Parole Program by claiming that such an action is “consistent with Executive Order (E.O.) 13767” that was issued in January 2017, and helps “better ensure that parole is used only on a case-by-case basis.” And in announcing its intent to end this program, USCIS inaccurately described the program as a “categorical parole program” that allows individuals to “skip the line and bypass the proper channels established by Congress.” Such claims not only conflict with USCIS’s own description of the program in the Federal Register, they also conflict with USCIS’s actual implementation of the program.  

Congress provided authority for USCIS to implement the Filipino World War II Veterans Parole Program in 8 U.S.C. 1182, which allows for discretionary parole “on a case-by-case basis for urgent humanitarian reasons or significant public benefit.” In establishing the program, USCIS made clear that “[i]n all cases, whether to parole a particular individual under this policy is a discretionary determination that will be made on a case-by-case basis” and those with “overriding adverse factors (e.g., criminal history) would not be approved.” 

USCIS further recognized that “the parole of qualified applicants who establish on a case-by-case basis that they are eligible for consideration under this policy and merit a favorable exercise of discretion would generally yield a “significant public benefit” and “would often address urgent humanitarian concerns.” And the fact that USCIS has denied 32 percent of applications for parole confirms that it is implementing the program on a case-by-case basis, rather than a “categorical” basis.

Moreover, the program has nothing to do with the stated purpose of E.O. 13767, which purported to “secure the Nation’s southern border” and address immigrants who entered the United States without screening or authorization. By contrast, the Filipino World War II Veterans Parole Program focuses on certain family members of veterans who have already been approved for visas.

These Filipino World War II veterans served our country with great courage and deep loyalty. They deserve our respect and gratitude. We ask that you rescind your decision to terminate a program that “recognizes the extraordinary contributions and sacrifices of Filipino veterans who fought for the United States during World War II.”

In addition, in light of the concerns noted above, please provide responses to the following questions no later than September 26, 2019:

1.      In deciding whether to terminate the Filipino World War II Veterans Parole Program, what assessments did you conduct to determine the impact of terminating the program on veterans, including how many elderly Filipino veterans will never be able to reunite with their children without this program given the current immigrant visa backlog?

2.      Did you consult with the Department of Health and Human Services, or relevant state and local agencies, to determine whether terminating the program would result in increased costs to provide the care and support for elderly Filipino veterans that a family member would have provided under the program?  

3.      Did you consult with the Department of Defense to determine whether the “the extraordinary contributions and sacrifices of Filipino veterans who fought for the United States during World War II” that justified this program are no longer valid before deciding to terminate the program?

4.      Given that this program had already set an initial timeline of five years, which ends on June 7, 2021, please (a) explain the reasons justifying your decision to expend resources to prematurely terminate the program now, and (b) identify the new termination date of the program.

Thank you for your attention to this matter. We look forward to your prompt response.

Sincerely,

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