HONOLULU (AP) – Deep wrinkles crease Artemio Caleda’s face as he brushes his hand against a scar on the left side of his chin.
He calls it a souvenir – picked up during World War II while dodging a cascade of explosive particles while taking part in the rescue of an American pilot. Although the shrapnel scar is now faint, it serves as a stinging reminder that Caleda is still fighting a battle – to have his three grown sons join him in the United States.
“We have waited for 20 long years and no visa has been issued,” said Caleda, who served as an intelligence officer of the U.S. Army’s 11th Infantry Regiment.
In an effort to address the matter, U.S. Sens. Mazie Hirono and Harry Reid have reintroduced legislation that aims to expedite the visa process for children of Filipino World War II veterans.
Co-sponsored by U.S. Sen. Brian Schatz and two others, the Filipino Veterans Family Reunification Act would exempt Filipino veterans’ children from a cap on immigrant visas. Because of annual limits on how many green cards are issued, the wait for an adult child’s visa can continue for decades. Petitions that Caleda and his wife filed on behalf of their sons in 1995 have yet to be processed.
As a former president of Fil-Am WWII Veterans of Hawaii, Caleda has participated in rallies in Washington, D.C., and attended hearings for similar bills. All of the past bills have failed to move through Congress.
Hirono told the Honolulu Star-Advertiser in a statement that ending the immigration backlog for the Filipino World War II veterans has long been a priority for the Hawaii delegation.
Previously, she pushed for a measure to end that backlog as part of comprehensive immigration reform. That bill passed in the Senate but the legislation was killed in the House.
“I am continuing to look for every avenue, that we can end the backlog for these veterans,” Hirono said.
Filipino veterans who served in World War II were offered U.S. citizenship under the 1990 naturalization act signed by President George H.W. Bush. Some veterans immigrated immediately with their spouses and minor children, but legislation excluded adult children.
Caleda and his wife, Luz, moved to Royal Kunia in 1992. At age 91, he worries that the green card applications filed on behalf of his sons will die with him. Luz Caleda died last spring.
Two applications for family-sponsored visas were filed under Luz Caleda’s name, but attorney Emmanuel Guerrero says that a humanitarian policy allows Artemio Caleda to stand in place of his wife as the petitioner without penalty.
The couple’s three daughters secured student visas to study in the U.S. and now live on Oahu.