How immigrants are redefining 'American' in Southern California

Immigration proposal shortens wait for Filipino World War II veterans' children

Leslie Berestein Rojas/KPCC

John Aspiras, Jr. visits a Filipino community center on Los Angeles' Temple Street. Aspiras, 85, was among the Filipinos who served alongside U.S. forces in the Pacific during and after World War II. He is sponsoring an adult daughter in the Philippines who has been waiting several years to join him here. A recently approved amendment to the Senate immigration bill would exempt Filipino veterans' children from long visa waits.

When he was still in his teens, John Aspiras, Jr. fought in a guerilla unit backing U.S. forces against the invading Japanese army in World War II. After the war, he joined a Filipino army unit that assisted the U.S. military with cleanup operations.
He was among tens of thousands of Filipino war veterans who were granted U.S. citizenship when a 1990 immigration law gave them special status to do so. He and his wife settled in Los Angeles not long afterward.

As he grew older, Aspiras sponsored his youngest child, a daughter now in her fifties, for residency in the U.S. It's been nearly 10 years, Aspiras said, and his daughter is still waiting in the Philippines. Lines are long for adult children of U.S. citizens being sponsored for immigrant visas.

"Me and my wife are the only ones living here," said Aspiras. "If I could only do something real fast, you know, so she could come, before…I'm not getting younger, if you know what I mean."

He will soon turn 86.

An amendment that made it into the U.S. Senate’s proposed immigration bill last week with little fanfare seeks to help people like Aspiras. It would exempt many children of Filipino World War II veterans from annual visa limits, sparing them the wait and allowing them to join their elderly parents.

"Once (the veterans) became citizens and petitioned to have their children lawfully come into the United States, they got into these long backlogs of over 10 years," said Stewart Kwoh, executive director of the Asian Pacific American Legal Center in Los Angeles. "The Philippines has some of the longest waiting lists."

The wait time for unmarried adult children of U.S. citizens coming from the Philippines exceeds a decade; those whose visas are being processed now filed paperwork in 1999. For married adult children, the wait exceeds 20 years.

The amendment to the Senate immigration bill, from Democratic Sen. Mazie Hirono of Hawaii, would also allow these adult children to come to the U.S. even if the parent sponsoring them dies. Immigrant petitions typically die with the petitioner.

Unlike some other amendments Hirono proposed to the bill, this one sailed through the recent Senate Judiciary Committee negotiations. The Senate bill as it stands proposes to eliminate certain types of immigrant visas in an effort to reduce family-based migration, including visas for siblings of U.S. citizens and for adult married children over 30.

Hirono introduced an amendment to preserve those categories. It wasn't even put to a vote. And the committee voted down other amendment she introduced that would give preference to families in which the separation caused hardship for the U.S. citizen sponsor.

The immigration reform bill is expected to go to the Senate floor in June.

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