HONOLULU — U.S. Rep. Colleen Hanausa and U.S. Sen. Mazie Hirono introduced bills Tuesday that would reunite Filipino World War II veterans with their families, many of whom live in the Philippines.
Hanabusa, a member of the House Armed Services Committee, introduced the Filipino Veterans Family Reunification Act to honor the service of about 7,000 Filipino soldiers who were granted U.S. citizenship after fighting for the United States during World War II.
Hirono's bill — her first legislation as a U.S. senator and a companion bill to Hanausa's — would exempt the veterans' adult children, many of whom have been on immigration waiting lists for decades, from limits on immigrant visas into the United States.
"This measure is an important step toward fulfilling our obligations to these brave veterans," Hanausa said. "When we needed friends in Asia during the war, the Filipinos didn't hesitate. They stood up in our country's time of need, and it is our responsibility to stand up for them.
"While they were themselves offered an opportunity for U.S. citizenship in recognition of their service, they have now been separated from their families for more than two decades," Hanausa said. "If we do not act, their families may miss precious time with them because of the frustrating length of immigration waiting lists."
Hirono said, "Our nation can never fully repay the debt we owe the Filipino World War II veterans who bravely served and sacrificed alongside Americans in the critical South West Pacific Theater. The brave servicemen who are still with us, now in their 80s and 90s, should not have to wait any longer in order to be reunited with their children."
Only about 6,000 of the 200,000 Filipino World War II veterans who served are alive, Hanausa said.
In 1990, Congress provided those veterans a waiver from certain naturalization requirements, and many became U.S. citizens. However, allowances were not made for their children.
Hanabusa also introduced legislation (HR 111) to award the Filipino veterans with a Congressional Gold Medal to recognize their service.
In 1941 more than 200,000 Filipinos were drafted into the U.S. armed forces and served during World War II. In 1946, Congress passed the Rescission Act, which authorized a $200 million appropriation to the Commonwealth Army of the Philippines on a condition that service in the Commonwealth Army of the Philippines should not be deemed to have been service in the active military or air service of the United States.
It would take Congress more than four decades to acknowledge that the Filipino World War II veterans served in the U.S. armed forces. The Immigration Act of 1990 included a provision that offered them the opportunity to obtain U.S. citizenship. And 19 years later the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 included a provision that authorized the payment of benefits to the 30,000 surviving Filipino veterans in the amount of $15,000 for those who are citizens and $9,000 for those who are noncitizens.