First round goes to veterans; unanimous vote for family reunification provision

Celestino Almeda, 96, is congratulated by Hawaii Senator Mazie Hirono, principal author of the provision. ACFV photo

Celestino Almeda, 96, is congratulated by Hawaii Senator Mazie Hirono, principal author of the provision. ACFV photo

By Maricar CP Hampton

Filipino World War II veterans who have waited for years to reunite with their adult children have something to feel happy about. On May 21, the Senate Judiciary Committee accepted by unanimous vote an amendment proposing family reunification.

The Filipino Veterans Family Reunification amendment was introduced by Hawaii Senator Mazie Hirono (D).

When the chairman, Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vermont), called for a voice vote, there was no opposition. The discussion lasted all of four minutes.

Senator Richard Durbin (D-Illinois) recognized veteran Celestino Almeda, 96, who was present during the meeting. He stood up to acknowledge the applause, and was thanked by the senators. In turn, he saluted the senators despite his difficulty in hearing and walking.

“Our veterans have earned it. They paid a high price. Thank you very much,” Almeda told Hirono after the voting.

Almeda is the spokesman for the American Coalition for Filipino Veterans (ACFV), an national advocacy organization. He was accompanied by Angelyn Marzan, a daughter of a veteran with disability, who attended the five days of committee meetings with him.

The National Federation of Filipino American Associations (NaFFAA) leadership thanked Hirono for pushing the amendment.

Said National Chairman Ed Navarra, “(With this amendment), our aging veterans can reunite with their loved ones sooner than later.”

Adult children of living or deceased Filipino American veterans who have approved petitions and have been waiting for more than a decade to immigrate will have immediate priority in getting visas once a comprehensive immigration reform bill is passed by Congress and signed by the President.

“We won the first round, thanks to Senator Hirono’s untiring leadership. We extend our gratitude to the senators of judiciary committee, Democrats and Republicans, by unanimously passing our amendment. We now have hope for the children of our comrades. Some of them have waited 22 years to live in America,” said Franco Arcebal, 89, vice-president of ACFV in a statement. He watched the proceedings on cable television from Los Angeles.

The coalition estimates 20,000 visas could be issued to the sons and daughters of Filipino American WWII veterans if this provision becomes part of the immigration law.

The Hirono amendment was among 300 items submitted to the committee during its mark-up session, which started three weeks ago. Chances for its approval were high because both houses in Congress had previously approved a similar measure.

Now that the Senate Judiciary Committee has approved Senate Bill 744, the proposed “Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act,” the full Senate is expected to vote on the measure in the coming days.

“A significant step has been taken to fix our broken immigration system,” Navarra said. “But we have to stay in this fight to ensure that Congress passes a just, fair and humane legislation.”

The coalition also urged their supporters to write their senators and Congress members through their websites and to let them know about their support for the bill.

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