Amended Immigration Bill Clears Senate Judiciary Committee

CHICAGO (FAXX/jGLi) – True to his pre-immigration committee commitment, Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) helped Tuesday (May 21) fellow Democrat Sen. Mazie K. Hirono [HI] pushed the amendment that will enable the children of Filipino World War II veterans to get permanent residence into the $8.3-billion comprehensive immigration reform bill, S. 744 or the Border Security, Economic Opportunity and Immigration Modernization Act, get past the Senate Judiciary Committee.

By a unanimous voice vote, the 18-man committee chaired by Sen. Patrick Leahy [D-Vt] approved the amendment after a four-minute discussion witnessed by a sole Filipino veteran, Celestino Almeda, 96, who stood up to be recognized and was thanked by the senators.

It was Sen. Durbin who recognized Mr. Almeda, spokesman of the American Coalition for Filipino Veterans, in the gallery during the vote, according to veterans advocate, Eric Lachica.

Adult children of living or dead Filipino World War II veterans may apply for benefits as special immigrants and will have immediate priority in getting visas once the comprehensive immigration bill is passed by the Senate and the House and signed into law by President Obama.
Tens of thousands of visas could be issued to the sons and daughters of Filipino WW II veterans once the bill becomes law.
According to the amendment, it will “exempt children of certain Filipino World War II veterans from the numerical limitations on immigrant visas” in the sweeping  “comprehensive immigration reform and for other purposes.”

The amendment will be added at the end of subtitle C of title II of Sec. 201 (b)(1) of the Immigration and Nationality Act (8 U.S.C. 1151(b)(c) as Section 2320. It will be cited as REUNIFICATION OF CERTAIN FAMILIES OF FILIPINO VETERANS OF WORLD WAR II under “Filipino Veterans Family Reunification Act (b) Exemption from Immigrant Visa Limit. Section 201(b)(1)(8U.S.C. 1151(b)(1), as amended by Sections 2102, 2212, 2307, and 2402, as amended by adding at the end of the following: “(0) (sic) Aliens who …”

COMMITTEE DEBATE ENDED THIS WEEK

Tuesday was the second and last day this week that the Senate Judiciary Committee held its executive business meeting following last Thursday (May 9) to consider the bipartisan legislation introduced last April 17 that would legalize 11 million undocumented immigrants.

Under the current law, there are five special immigrants not subject to direct numerical limitations. These are categorized as (A) (diplomats), (B) (refugees), (C) (special agriculture workers), (D) (removal is cancelled) and (E) (entered the U.S. prior to Jan. 1, 1972). Sen. Hirono’s proposed amendment will add children of Filipino WW II veterans under (F) category.

Senator Durbin first heard of this amendment when he attended a town hall community meeting at the office of Alliance of Filipinos for Immigrant Rights and Empowerment (AFIRE) in Chicago, Illinois held last January 10. It was there that Mr. Durbin disclosed of the formation of Gang of Eight, composed of four senators each from Republican and Democrat parties, who were crafting a comprehensive immigration reform bill.

Aside from Sen. Durbin, the other members of the Gang of Eight are Senators Robert Menendez [D-NJ], Chuck Schumer [D-N.Y.], Michael Bennet [D-Colo.], Marco Rubio [R-FL], Jeff Flake [R-ARIZ.], John McCain [R-ARIZ.] and Lindsey Graham [R-S.C.]

During that meeting, Remy Cabagnot, widow of a Filipino World War II veteran, asked Senator Durbin’s help to process the adjustment of legal status of her children because her husband had died last year. Mrs. Cabagnot suggested that Senator Durbin should help in the inclusion of the proposal of Senator Hirono in the proposed comprehensive immigration reform bill, which would process the Green Card applications of her children under current priority and be exempted from numerical limitations.

Later, during a Feb. 4 press conference at the Instituto del Progresso Latino in Chicago’s Southside jointly presided over by Senator Durbin and Rep. Luis Gutierrez [D-4th-IL], this reporter followed up the proposal of Mrs. Cabagnot with Senator Durbin and Representative Gutierrez if they could include children of the Filipino veterans in the proposed CIR, who both signed on the proposal.

PASSAGE OF AMENDMENT “NO BRAINER”

Even, Lawrence Benito, Executive Director of the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights, who was presented with the issue for the first time for the inclusion of the children of the Filipino veterans for family reunification, said, “On its (special immigrant status for Filipino veterans’ children’s) merits, this issue is a no brainer. I am going to talk to Sen. Durbin and Rep. Gutierrez to consider this proposal in the comprehensive immigration reform bill. Personally, this is something I would like to support, raising the issue of fairness for these families.”

Abbey Eusebio, constituent advocate of Rep. Jan Schakowsky [D-9th-IL], told this reporter Monday  that Rep. Schakowsky will be very supportive of this Filipino veterans amendment if it  will come up for a vote in the House version of the comprehensive immigration reform bill.

Among the amendments approved Monday and Tuesday on the CIR bill were as follows:

Sen. Dianne Feinstein [D-CA] introduced, “Dual Intent: “The fact that an alien is, or intends to be, the beneficiary of an application for a preference status filed under section 204, seeks a change or adjustment of status after completing a legitimate period of nonimmigrant stay, or has otherwise sought permanent residence in the United States shall not constitute evidence of intent to abandon a foreign residence that should preclude the alien from obtaining a visa or admission as nonimmigrant …”

An amendment introduced by Sen. Flake says an alien granted registered provisional immigrant status is not eligible for Federal means-tested public benefits.” Such benefits include food stamps (now called the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP), nonemergency Medicaid, Supplemental Security Income (SSI), and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) and its precursor, Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC).

For his part, Senators Orrin Hatch [R-Utah] and Schumer introduced an amendment seconded by Sen. Chuck Grassley [R-Iowa] that will allow a beneficiary to change jobs or employers after the petition is approved; and the new job is in the same or similar occupation classification as the job for which the petition is approved.

However, if the visa is not immediately available at the time of the change, the beneficiary of such application shall pay a supplemental fee of $500.

“AMERASIANS” LOSE PREFERENCE

Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse [D-RI] introduced an amendment that would increase the visas up to 40% of the worldwide level for aliens who are members of profession holding advanced degrees and of prospective employees of national securities facilities.

Another Sen. Hirono’s amendment would require the Comptroller General of the U.S. to conduct a study of the merit-based immigration system during the first seven years of how the points system were utilized, how many points allocated to people lawfully admitted for permanent residence. And how many people who were allocated points were not lawfully admitted to permanent residence; the countries of origin of the applicants; the number of visas issued; and educational attainment and occupation of people who were issued such visas.

Sen. Hatch also introduced an amendment that will terminate “Amerasian” children to be given preferential treatment as soon as the bill is approved.

Sen. Feinstein also introduced an amendment that would grant Tibetans special immigrant status “not resettled in India or Nepal or are most likely to resettled successfully in the U.S.”

Another amendment by Sen. Feinstein is the “live training of all U.S. customs and border protection personnel who are likely to come into contact with unaccompanied alien children. Such training shall incorporate the services of child welfare professionals with expertise in culturally competent, trauma-centered and developmentally appropriate interviewing skills to assist them in the screening of children attempting to enter the U.S.”

The comprehensive immigration bill will be further debated in the full Senate next month and will be reconciled with the House version before they are approved and sent to President Obama, who is ready to sign it into law.

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Photocaption:

WHERE IT ALL STARTED:
Sen. Dick Durbin [D-IL], third from left, listens to Mrs. Remy Cabagnot (second from right) over the challenges she faced in securing the Green Cards of her children a year after her husband, a Filipino World War II veteran, had died, which automatically invalidated the visa petitions. Mrs. Cabagnot asked Senator Durbin during that meeting at AFIRE’s office in Chicago’s northside last Jan. 10 to help her revive her children’s visa petitions. Last Tuesday, Sen. Durbin helped Sen. Mazie K. Hirono (inset, right) [D-HI] pass the amendment that would let children of Filipino World War II veterans apply for Green Cards with immediate priority and without numerical limitations even if the petitioning veteran is dead or alive. Looking on from left are Alex Cirera, publisher-editor of Community Builder, Jerry B. Clarito, Executive Director of Alliance of Filipinos for Immigrant Rights and Empowerment, Philippine Consul General Leo M. Herrera-Lim, Angela “Ging’ Mascarenas, AFIRE Board president, and Carla Navoa of the Immigrant Youth Justice League.  (FAXX/jGLi Photo by Joseph G. Lariosa)

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