April 26, 2017

Hirono Urges Trump Administration to Continue Program that Reunites Filipino World War II Veterans with Their Families

Senators Mazie K. Hirono (D-Hawaii), Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Tim Kaine (D-Va.), Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.), and Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) urged the President to continue the implementation of the Filipino World War II Veterans Parole Program (FWVP) program, which reunites Filipino veterans who fought for the United States during World War II with their families. The Senators wrote to the President in response to reports that the Administration is reviewing immigration parole programs.

“Today, there are less than six thousand surviving Filipino World War II veterans in the United States,” the Senators wrote. “Like most elderly Americans, these veterans are likely to become more reliant on family members for care as they grow older. However, because the current family-based immigrant visa backlog extends back more than 20 years, these family members have not been able to reunite with their relatives in the United States.

“We know you understand the contributions and sacrifices that these veterans and their families have made to our country. Therefore, we hope that USCIS will continue its full implementation of the FWVP policy uninterrupted and that you work to address the needs of these veterans.”

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 backlogs in the U.S. immigration system, it can take more than 20 years for a visa to become available. Under the FWVP program, families, some of whom have been waiting decades, can finally be together in the United States while they wait for a green card.

Senator Hirono has been the leader in Congress of the effort to reunite Filipino World War II veterans with their families. After years of advocacy by Senator Hirono, the Obama Administration announced in May 2016 that it would create a parole program to reunite the families of Filipino World War II veterans. Last February, Senator Hirono met with the Milla family, the first Hawaii beneficiaries of the FWVP program.

“The Humanitarian Parole of the FWVP Policy that allowed Family Members to come to the U.S. and be reunited while waiting for their visa’s availability is a relief for the family,” Gaspar Milla, son of Filipino World War II veteran Jesus Milla said. “We hope the USCIS will continue its full implementation of this FWVP Parole Program to acknowledge the heroism of these Filipino Veterans under the command of American Military during WWII. They should be more considerate since most of them are now in poor health condition; consequently, the elderly tend to be more at high risk of developing disabilities and contracting diseases that needs care of the family.”

“The Filipino War Veteran Parole Program brought renewed hope to Jesus Milla’s widow Anastacia and to her family that they might still be reunited in the United States as Jesus had wished for so many years,” Maile Hirota, the Milla family’s attorney said. “Under the FWVP program, the process to bring the Milla family to the United States took six months and required them to provide all of the extensive documentation normally provided in the full immigrant visa process. The Milla family gladly complied with the strict requirements of the FWVP program so that they would have one last chance at being reunited with their 93 year-old mother and grandmother from whom they had been separated for more than 20 years. This program is the only way for the families of Filipino veterans finally to see justice for their aged mothers and fathers who served our country during WWII.”

“The National Council of Asian Pacific Americans continues to strongly support the Filipino World War II Veterans Parole Program, which would allow these veterans, who served our country with courage and bravery, to be reunited with family members who have been waiting for decades. With nearly 300 pending applications, it is our duty to ensure this important program continues without delay,” said National Council of Asian Pacific Americans (NCAPA) National Director Christopher Kang.

“The Filipino World War II Veterans Parole Program has honored the hundreds of thousands of Filipinos who fought bravely under the American flag during World War II,” said Brendan Flores, National Chairman of the National Federation of Filipino American Associations (NaFFAA). “This program allows family members to reunite in the U.S. to provide support and care to their aging Filipino veteran family members, many of whom have already passed away or are in their twilight years. For the sake of our veterans, we must honor their service by ensuring that this program will continue to be implemented.”

“Taking care of America’s veterans is one of the promises made by the Trump administration, and we would expect that promise to include Filipino WWII veterans and their families, who have been separated for decades by an inhumanely long visa backlog and denied the opportunity to live together in the United States,” said John C. Yang, president and executive director of Asian Americans Advancing Justice.  “Advancing Justice | AAJC is fully committed to fighting for the rights of these war heroes, their families, and all immigrants.”

The full letter is printed below:

Dear Mr. President:

We write today to reiterate our support for the Filipino World War II Veterans Parole (FWVP) Program, and to advocate for its continued implementation under the Immigration and Nationality Act’s (INA) humanitarian parole authority.

Your executive order of January 25, 2017 stated that “It is the policy of the executive branch to end the abuse of parole and asylum provisions currently used to prevent the lawful removal of removable aliens.” Related to parole provisions, the order directs the Secretary for the Department of Homeland Security “to ensure that parole authority under section 212(d)(5) of the INA (8 U.S.C. 1182(d)(5)) is exercised only on a case-by-case basis in accordance with the plain language of the statute, and in all circumstances only when an individual demonstrates urgent humanitarian reasons or a significant public benefit. Last week, the Washington Post reported that U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) had recently “taken several steps to review its exercise of parole authority” and had forwarded recommendations related to the “termination or modification” of its uses of parole consistent with your executive order.

We believe that the use of humanitarian parole to support elderly Filipino veterans and their family members meets the statutory requirements for humanitarian parole, and that the current policy does not constitute an abuse of parole authority as USCIS has established it would yield a “significant public benefit.” As recognized by USCIS, given “the advanced age of World War II Filipino veterans and their spouses, and their increased need for care and companionship, grants of parole under the FWVP policy would often address urgent humanitarian concerns.” In short, the FWVP policy “enhances the ability of such elderly veterans and their spouses to obtain care and support from their family members abroad.” Parole is granted on a case-by-case basis, and “parole applications for individuals who fall within the general criteria but whose cases present overriding adverse factors (e.g., criminal history) would not be approved.” Such case-by-case consideration and the bar on those with criminal backgrounds safeguards the program from abuse.

Furthermore, the stringent eligibility requirements of the program provide another backstop against abuse. USCIS only considers requests for parole on a case-by-case basis, and only considers requests for beneficiaries who have already received approved family-based immigrant visa petitions. USCIS also maintains its discretion to reject applications for individuals who meet these criteria, but present overriding adverse factors like criminal histories. Following the first four years of the Program, USCIS will conduct additional outreach and evaluate whether the volume of actual or potential requests would support maintaining the policy, or whether it should be phased out at the end of five years.

As you know, during the Second World War, an estimated 260,000 Filipino soldiers answered President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s “call-to-arms” and supported the American war effort. Despite their service and the promise of naturalization, many of these veterans did not receive U.S. citizenship until after President George H. W. Bush signed the Immigration Act of 1990, which included a provision that offered naturalized citizenship for Filipino World War II veterans—more than 40 years later. Only last year were these veterans honored for their contributions and sacrifices with the Congressional Gold Medal.

Today, there are less than six thousand surviving Filipino World War II veterans in the United States. Like most elderly Americans, these veterans are likely to become more reliant on family members for care as they grow older. However, because the current family-based immigrant visa backlog extends back more than 20 years, these family members have not been able to reunite with their relatives in the United States.

Under the FWVP policy, veterans whose service has been recognized by the U.S. Department of Defense, or their surviving spouses, may apply to request parole on behalf of their children, and, in some cases, certain other family members. Given that many of the surviving veterans are in their 80s and 90s, reunification with loved ones provides an opportunity for them to live more independently in the care of family members—an important humanitarian benefit that these veterans deserve as part of our nation’s repayment for their brave service. 

During the 113th Congress, the U.S. Senate adopted an amendment to the comprehensive immigration reform bill that would have allowed for the children of Filipino World War II Veterans to be reunited with their parents. Recognizing the contributions of these veterans and their families, the Senate Judiciary Committee adopted this amendment unanimously and the bill later passed with a broad, bipartisan support on a 68-32 vote. We know you understand the contributions and sacrifices that these veterans and their families have made to our country. Therefore, we hope that USCIS will continue its full implementation of the FWVP policy uninterrupted and that you work to address the needs of these veterans.

According to the most recent data from USCIS, there are 282 pending applications to the FWVP program. These applications should be highly prioritized, as it is critical for family members to be reunited with their aging parents in need.

Thank you for your consideration of this request. We look forward to your response.