84 Filipino Veterans Who Served in U.S. WWII Forces Become Citizens
A long-standing battle for U.S. citizenship by Filipino World War II veterans who served in the American armed forces gained ground Monday when 84 of them were naturalized before a Los Angeles federal judge. But it may be a short-lived victory.
Immigration officials say they plan to appeal about 60 of the naturalizations approved by U.S. District Judge Terry J. Hatter Jr.
Over the last several years, numerous suits have been filed on behalf of Filipino veterans seeking to become citizens. Some lawyers representing them contend that the Immigration and Naturalization Service has stalled and tried to obstruct processing of their naturalization petitions. But agency lawyers, who deny the charge, contend that the majority of applicants simply do not qualify.
Jack Golan, an attorney representing a majority of the veterans at the naturalization ceremony, charged that the INS has conducted a “deliberate policy of denial by delay.” Golan, who said he has represented more than 1,000 Filipino veterans, said that he usually has had to file two suits per case just to force the agency to process the naturalization applications.
The process usually takes two to three years, he said. But some veterans, like Faustino Baclig, 65, who fought with the Americans and survived the infamous “Death March” on Bataan, say they have been waiting much longer.
Citizenship was promised to Filipinos who enlisted in the U.S. military in World War II. Most of the 175,000 Filipinos who fought with the Americans were naturalized after proving they had filed for citizenship before 1947. But some immigration lawyers estimate there are still about 2,000 veterans trying to become citizens.
Baclig said he tried twice to file for citizenship while still in the Army, but found the office handling the applications closed. In fact, the INS officers withdrew from the Philippines shortly after opening an office there in 1946 under pressure from the soon-to-be-independent Philippine government.
“So I forgot about it for a while,” said Baclig, who said he decided to leave his homeland and file his application in this country about a year and a half ago--this time for his children’s sake. “I want a better tomorrow for them,” said the retired insurance salesman.
The INS contends that the law providing citizenship for war veterans expired in 1946, said Stephen Sholomson, an attorney for the INS. But the agency plans to appeal as many as 300 recent naturalizations of Filipino veterans on more specific grounds that the applicants do not meet the law’s requirements.
Some are ineligible because they did not inquire about the benefit until after they were discharged from the U.S. military or because they enlisted too late, he said. Others lack proof that they served in the military, he said.