Waiting to join your Filipino WWII vet in the U.S.? Help’s coming
If you’re stuck in the Philippines waiting for papers to come through, I know. It may have seemed to be the impossible dream—to be reunited with your mom or dad who need your help in the U.S. But help is on the way in the never ending saga of the Filipino Veterans of World War II.
Even though they’ve stuck it out since 1946 to fight the U.S. for benefits denied, one of the easiest benefits to grant was never made a priority. That is, until the aging vets needed it. And they do now.
Among the vets who ultimately were granted citizenship and came to America, many immigrated alone, and now find themselves waiting for family members to get through the long wait in the immigration line on their own.
Right now, the wait is estimated to be 20 years or more. Absurd, right? Especially with the veterans in their 80s and 90s.
By the time their children get through the immigration process, their petitioner/veteran will have likely succumbed to new kind of illness: Death by bureaucracy.
But what else do you expect considering the way the veterans have been treated by the U.S. since the Rescission Act of 1946?
Thank goodness for the broad immigration debate. With the recognition of a broken system, the White House asked for recommendations on how to fix things, and community groups responded.
Even as immigration advocates like Asian Americans Advancing Justice put together a report on the use of “parole”–a tool used to enable the veterans’ relatives to beat the long wait—the key veteran’s group in the U.S. was completely unaware of the initiative.
“Glad you brought this proposal to my attention,” Eric Lachica of the American Coalition of Filipino Veterans based in Washington said to me when the proposal was floated last month. He added that the humanitarian use of parole was not unprecedented. “Since Obama recently issued executive orders granting Temporary Protective Status to various immigrant groups from Haiti, Guatemala, West Africa, Syria, Iraq, et al, why not the family members of lonely elderly heroes?”
Obama’s White House, of course, has always been seen as a natural for doing something for the vets. Obama had supported the Filipino Veterans Equity bill since 2007 when he was a senator and signed it into law in 2009 after he became president.
And when the White House issued its recommendation last week directing the Department of Homeland Security to begin set up of the program, Lachica beamed. “It would be part of Obama’s legacy if he seized this historic opportunity to right a terrible wrong,” Lachica told me.
If there’s some slight skepticism in his answer, it’s because there is. Lachica saw the language in the report to allow “certain family” members to “provide support and care” and told me he’s concerned there could be conditions put on participation.
For example, would a veteran have to be disabled? Would general care for healthy but aging seniors count? Would family members have to be qualified as caretakers? Older children only? The final guidance for the program will be drawn up by the United States Citizenship and Immigration Service and the State Department.
In other words, it’s not like the White House simply turned on a green light and said. “Come on in!” But of all the things it could do, this move was really the “low hanging fruit.”
Allow the aging vets to reunite with their older kids? A no-brainer. For veterans like Art Celada of Ewa Beach, Hawaii, it may be exactly what he needs to get his three older children from the Philippines to be with him in the United States.
Celada was visiting relatives on the East Coast when I called him. “It’s a breakthrough,” he told me. But the 91-year-old will have to wait to see if it’s everything the deal seems to be.
Still, there’s real hope that the recommendation should reduce the 20-plus years of waiting relatives who are immigrating to help care for the veterans must endure.
Unlike an executive order, or legislation, the use of parole isn’t a political football. It’s a time-honored device used for humanitarian reasons. And all that’s left are the details. Let’s hope it’s quick.
It’s about time the Filipino Veterans of WWII caught a break. For too long they’ve been subjected to “death by bureaucracy.”
It’s time to let their Filipino children come to their side and take care of our community’s heroes.
Emil Guillermo is an award-winning journalist and commentator who writes from California.
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