By Roy Mabasa
Several prominent leaders and members of the Filipino-American community in the United States on Monday (Sunday in the US) called on the administration of US President Donald Trump to reverse its decision to end the family-based reunification program for Filipino World War II veterans, calling the move “cruel and inhumane.”
They issued the call following the announcement made by the US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) that it will terminate the Filipino World War II Veterans Parole Program and the Haitian Family Reunification Parole Program which were designed to promote family reunification.
“These soldiers answered President (Franklin) Roosevelt’s call-to-duty and fought under the American flag, sacrificing for their country. The Trump administration must not dishonor our Filipino-American heroes. We call upon the administration to reverse its decision to terminate the Filipino World War II Veterans Parole Program,” said Marita Etcubanez of the Asian Americans Advancing Justice (AAJC), one of the key organizations that advocated and assisted Filipino WWII veterans in obtaining the parole program.
Under the said parole program that actually took effect only in 2016, it allows some veterans and their spouses to request certain family members to remain in the United States.
“Parole was granted to these war heroes in 2016 in recognition of the extraordinary contributions and sacrifices of Filipino veterans, who, before this policy change, had to wait decades to be reunited with their children. The urgent humanitarian basis for granting parole to our remaining veterans should be obvious: those still with us are very elderly and cannot continue to wait to be reunited with their family members,” Etcubanez added.
She pointed out that the Trump administration must not dishonor Filipino-American war heroes.
“We call upon the administration to reverse its decision to terminate the Filipino World War II Veterans Parole Program,” Etcubanez said.
Democratic Sen. Mazie Hirono of Hawaii, who lobbied for the program during the Obama administration, had earlier urged qualified veterans to apply for the program, which was set to expire on June 2021.
“Facing decades-long visa backlog, thousands of our aging Filipino World War II veterans have been unable to reunite with their family members still living in the Philippines,” Hirono was quoted as saying.
Nearly 300 families of Filipino WWII veterans have been reunited in the United States since the program took effect.
Former National Federation of Filipino Americans Association (NaFFAA) regional chair and member Bing Branigin, for her part, said the Trump administration’s action to deprive the aging heroes of WW2 the rare opportunity to reunite with their families is absolutely “cruel and inhumane.”
“After they served this country with honor and dignity, they are once again being mistreated, adding yet another insult to their injury when the Rescission Act of 1946 deprived them of their rights and benefits,” Branigin said in a separate statement.
Branigin noted that with the stringent requirements of the Parole Program, “only a handful” of Filipino veterans actually benefited from it in the entire length of its effectivity.
Retired US Army Major-General Antonio Taguba, who currently chairs the Filipino Veterans Recognition and Education Project (FilVetREP), said the Trump administration’s decision is “unwarranted and extremely distressing” for families of living WWII veterans who were initially eligible to immigrate to the US in 1990 then placed on hold until 2016.
“It’s senseless and totally unacceptable to terminate the parole program for family members of Filipino veterans who have waited for the opportunity to have their families join them in the US legally,” Taguba said.
Two years ago, the US Congress under the leadership of former House of Representatives Speaker Paul Ryan, bestowed the Filipino WWII heroes with the Congressional Gold Medal through the passage of Public Law 114-265, a bipartisan piece of legislation also known as the “Filipino Veterans of World War II Congressional Gold Medal Act.”
In announcing the termination of the parole program on Friday, USCIS Acting Director Ken Cuccinelli said, “Under these categorical parole programs, individuals have been able to skip the line and bypass the proper channels established by Congress. 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.”
Rey Robles, a son of a WWII veteran, joined other Filipino-American groups in criticizing the latest Trump administration’s move to scrap the parole program, saying the USCIS can just run the program “until the last veteran passes.”
“With many in there ’80s and ’90s, I’m sure there are only a few remaining. Canceling this program makes no dent or scratch on the administration’s actions on immigration. It’s also finite. There is no chance of abuse or over-use of the program. The cancellation makes no sense. I understand there can be immigration reform but this is not an intelligent move,” Robles said.