Filipino war veterans deserve better
Two years ago, I stood in the Capitol as Filipino Veterans of World War II were awarded one of the highest honors of our country, the Congressional Gold Medal. It was a proud moment as the United States recognized, “The Filipino veterans of World War II fought alongside, and as an integral part of, the United States Armed Forces. The United States remains forever indebted to the bravery, valor, and dedication that the Filipino Veterans of World War II displayed.” But it seems those words were hollow.
This year, the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services issued a notice that it intended to terminate a program intended to support our veterans, known as the Filipino World War II Veterans Parole Program. The same government that recognized the “bravery, valor, and dedication” of the Filipino World War II veterans and announced that it was “forever indebted” to them is now turning its back on them once more.
The advocacy campaign for the Congressional Gold Medal for our Filipino World War II veterans was one in a series of campaigns to win recognition and justice for their military service. Many people do not know that the Philippines was a territory of the United States during World War II. The Philippines was attacked by Japan on the same day as the attack on Pearl Harbor and was occupied by Japan for the duration of the war. Filipinos who fought with American forces were promised American citizenship for their service, but this offer was then rescinded after the war.
The advocacy campaign for our Filipino World War II veterans to receive the benefits they earned for their military service and bravery has gone on for decades. In 1990, legislation was passed that finally granted American citizenship to Filipino World War II veterans. Many filed petitions as soon as they were able to sponsor family members to reunite with them in the United States. Since the wait times for most of the family immigration categories are so long, however, many veterans who had petitioned their family members still faced decades long waits for their relatives to be approved for green cards to immigrate to the United States.
The Filipino World War II Veterans Parole Program, a policy that has been in effect for three year, allows certain family members of Filipino World War II veterans who have pending immigrant visa applications to travel to the United States and wait for their visas here. The policy enabled elderly Filipino World War II veterans to have their family members join them in the United States to provide care and support, and it has had a profound impact on the veterans and their families who are now together and able to care for one another and provide support on a daily basis.
In terminating the policy, the federal government is again breaking faith with the Filipino World War II veterans. I urge all to join me in calling on the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services and the White House to preserve the Filipino World War II Veterans Parole Program. Our veterans deserve and have more than earned the right to live out their days with dignity and in peace, with family to care for them, and secure in the knowledge that the United States honors their service.
More than 57,000 people were killed in the Philippines in World War II, and thousands more were wounded for life or missing in action. There is an immeasurable cost of life in war, and soldiers like my father defended the United States at a huge risk to their lives and freedom. Being granted American citizenship for completing their mission is not an entitlement or benefit. Soldiers were willing to die for our country, to suffer the brutality and ravages of war, and many lost their homes and livelihood.
The United States must honor the commitment made to these veterans and their families. Our remaining veterans are now in their nineties, and some have passed the centennial mark. The Filipino World War II Veterans Parole Program was created to support those who bravely defended the United States during the war. There is no honor in ending it.
Tony Taguba is a retired major general of the United States Army and now the chairman of the Filipino Veterans Recognition and Education Project.
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