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Family Reunions On Hold Due to Immigration Backlog

Asian Journal, News Report, Joseph Pimentel Posted: Oct 18, 2008

When Filipino World War II veteran Pedro Alpay received his US citizenship in 1992, he immediately filed for his seven children in the Philippines to join him.

He was wrong.

Since his children were all over the age of 21, Alpay could not bring any of them over immediately due to US immigration laws. He soon learned that it would take up to 15 years for his sons and daughters to receive their visa.

He was 70 years old when he filed.

One of his sons joined him recently.

The others are still waiting.

If he or his wife dies in the next few years, the petition for their children will die with them.

I waited almost half a century to become a US citizen, said Alpay, who served as a member of a guerrilla unit that fought the Japanese in the mountains of Luzon during WWII. I did not think I would have to wait again for my family to join us.

Alpays story is not uncommon. It is one of many stories of Asian Americans affected by the long US immigration backlog detailed in a new report by Dan Huang of the Asian Pacific American Legal Center (APALC).

Released on September 25, the report A Devastating Wait: Family Unity and Immigration Backlogs details the role of family based petitions and the US.

The report coincides with the introduction of new legislation by Congressman Mike Honda (D-CA) and Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ), which looks to resolve key elements of the broken family immigration system.

The Reuniting Families Act exempts children of WWII Filipino veterans from numerical caps, allows families to reunite despite the death of a petitioner, and reclassifies lawful permanent resident spouses and children as immediate relatives.

Huang argues that the US reluctance to clear the immigration backlogs is having a severe affect on Asian American families.

With ten to fifteen year waiting periods for family preference visas, many families suffer undue hardships and the family unit crumbles, said Huang, the reports principle author. It is believed that such long waits have led to the large number an estimated 1.5 million of undocumented Asian immigrants who choose to overstay their visas rather than continue to wait in the backlogs.

There are nearly 350,000 undocumented Filipinos living in the US.

FilAms and Filipino permanent residents planning to bring their immediate family or sibling from the Philippines to the US have the longest wait time amongst all other countries.

According to US immigration law, family based petitions fall into four categories, all with different wait times and allotments per year.

There is the first preference category for unmarried sons and daughters over the age of 21 of US citizens that has an average wait time for Filipinos of 15-years. The second preference is for spouses, minor children and unmarried sons and daughters of permanent residents that have wait times of five to 11-years, respectively. The third preference is for the married sons and daughters of US citizens that is a 17-year wait. And lastly, the longest wait for Filipinos is the fourth preference the brothers and sisters of US citizens. They wait nearly 23-years for a visa.

According to the US Visa bulletin for October, the USCIS is only filing Filipinos with priority dates of April 1993 for the first category, January 2004 for the second category A, May 1997 for second category B, May 1991 for the third category, and March 1986 for the fourth category.

For Filipino WWII veterans, their old age adds to the dilemma. Since many of the veterans sons and daughters are married, they are holding on for dear life so they could reconnect with their children again.

The wait times [for their children to receive a US visa] average 12 to 15 years, said Eric Lachica, executive director of the American Coalition of Filipino Veterans. There are about 6,000 Filipino veterans and I would say half are waiting for their children. If you average that they have about 2 or 3 kids, thats about 9,000 waiting to be brought over.

With the Presidential elections heating up, Huang and Lachica are looking forward to hearing what Senator Barack Obama (D-IL) and Senator John McCain (R-AZ) plan for immigration reform. (www.asianjournal.com)

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