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Senators push to reinstate visa program for Filipinos who fought for US in WWII

Sen. Mazie Hirono, D-Hawaii.

JOE GROMELSKI/STARS AND STRIPES

By WILLIAM COLE | The Honolulu Star-Advertiser | Published: September 22, 2019

HONOLULU (Tribune News Service) — Hawaii’s U.S. Sens. Mazie Hirono and Brian Schatz and 12 other Senate Democrats have written to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services to urge a reversal of the Trump administration’s termination of a program to reunite Filipino World War II veterans with their families in the U.S.

“Filipino veterans were granted citizenship in recognition of their service to the United States during World War II,” Hirono said in a news release. “Many of their children, however, were not.”

Due to the volume of immigrant visa applications from the Philippines, it otherwise can take more than 20 years for families to be reunited, Hirono said.

Under the Filipino World War II Veterans Parole Program, created in 2016 under the Obama administration, adult children, spouses and their children could apply to come to the United States while they waited for an available immigrant visa.

Estimates are that fewer than 6,000 of the Filipino veterans remain alive in the U.S. As of June 30, according to Citizenship and Immigration Services, 646 applications for the program had been received. Of those, 261 were denied, 301 were approved and 84 were pending.

How many families have been reunited in Hawaii is unclear. The federal agency said “there is no information available on applications by state.”

Immigration attorney Stella Shimamoto said she knows of at least two families in Hawaii who were approved and another in the process of applying for the benefit. The program was to expire in June 2021.

Among those who were able to take advantage of the reunification on Oahu was the Milla family. Pfc. Jesus Milla was a guerrilla fighter with E Company, 1st Battalion, 1st Pangasinan Regiment. Milla’s unit was involved in guarding, training, destroying bridges and performing intelligence work on Luzon, according to family members.

In 2017 — even though Jesus Milla had died in 2006 — his wife, Anastacia, was able to bring a son, Jeorge, his wife and two of their daughters to Hawaii.

The Democrats said in the letter to Citizenship and Immigration Services Acting Director Ken Cuccinelli that 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.”

Created in recognition “of the extraordinary contributions and sacrifices of Filipino veterans who fought for the United States,” the program helped the elderly veterans in their late 80s and 90s reunite with their children, the lawmakers said.

But on Aug. 2, Citizenship and Immigration Services announced its intention to terminate the Haitian Family Reunification Parole Program and the Filipino World War II veterans program “consistent with” a Trump executive order on border security and immigration enforcement improvements.

“Under these categorical parole programs, individuals have been able to skip the line and bypass the proper channels established by Congress,” Cuccinelli said in a news release. “With the termination of these programs, these individuals will no longer be permitted to wait in the United States for their family-based green card to become available, consistent with the rules that apply to the rest of the world.”

In 1941, more than 250,000 Filipino soldiers responded to a call to arms by President Franklin D. Roosevelt and fought under the American flag during the war.

Then-U.S. Sen. Daniel Inouye in 1997 railed against a Congress that he said “betrayed” Filipino veterans who were loyal to the U.S. in passing the Rescission Act after the war denying many of them benefits.

Some Filipino World War II veterans were not awarded citizenship rights until President George H.W. Bush signed the Immigration Act of 1990.

It was via that window that Jesus Milla and his wife came to Hawaii in 1994, said son Gaspar, who also lives in Hawaii and is now a U.S. citizen.

Filipino veterans “came here by themselves, but not with family,” said Gaspar Milla, 60. “How can they live without their family?

“How many veterans are still alive? There are not too many,” he said, adding the program shouldn’t be stopped. “They should give them some kind of consideration.”

He said he’s happy to have his brother here to help take care of their mother, who is 96 and lives in a nursing home.

“Who would take care of them if they don’t have any family?” he said.

Hirono said Jeorge Milla and his wife Juseline are employed in Hawaii, their daughters Jasmine and Jeraldine are attending college, and all have received green cards.

Attorney Maile Hirota, who, along with Shimamoto, helped the Milla family, said that early on, “there was quite a bit of confusion among the veteran-age people about what the program was designed to do,” and that may help explain the relatively low number of applicants.

But “there’s no harm, I think, in keeping the program open,” Shimamoto said. “I don’t understand why the Trump administration is trying to shut it when it doesn’t seem to be necessarily a huge burden on (Citizenship and Immigration Services) to keep it open.”

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