SAN FRANCISCO – The social hall by the Veterans Equity Center (VEC) used to be filled with Filipino World War II veterans. But there are barely any left now, just widows of the men who bravely fought for freedom seven decades ago.
For those left behind, being gathered there meant good news.
After years of lobbying the U.S. government, President Barack Obama finally issued an executive order that offers the veterans’ sons and daughters the opportunity to come to the U.S. right away, while waiting for their immigrant visas. This parole program would also allow them to work temporarily in the U.S.
Eighty-nine year Cipriano Valenzuela and his 78-year old wife Marcelina are ecstatic. They’ve been waiting nine years to be reunited with their children in the Philippines.
“We are so happy because we now have hope that our children would be able to come here,”said Cipriano.
Marcelina shared that they need their children and grandchildren here to help care for Cipriano who has had a heart bypass surgery. She said,”It’s hard taking care of him. And what happens if he dies? I’ll be left here all alone.”
Eighty-six years old Aurora Catingcoy has been a widow of a Filipino World War II veteran since 2006. Her husband, Jesus, then filed a petition for one of their children in 2994. But the petition died with her husband. She petitioned for that child again in 2008. But so far — no visa yet. She hasn’t been with her children for more than 20 years.
She related, “It’s tough. It’s a good thing my nieces here visit me from time to time. Otherwise, I’d be lonelier.”
Obama’s executive order hopes to help as many as 6,000 veterans and thousands more widows. But before they could benefit from this, advocates said they need to have approved petitions before the US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).
“It’s a benefit for the children of Filipino World War II veterans but with approved petitions. That’s the key. But let’s say the veteran dies and leaves behind a wife and their children don’t have approved petitions, the wife can still file petitions for them,” stated Luisa Antonio, executive director of VEC.
The USCIS will begin accepting applications on June 8. Advocates said veterans or their widows need to prepare the following documents: (1) proof of citizenship, (2) birth certificate of children, (3) marriage certificate, (4) proof of support, (5) copy of approved petition.
This program by the Obama administration may not necessarily solve the massive backlog in family-based petitions but for these Filipino veterans and their families, it’s help that very much welcome especially in their time of great need.