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Court Extends Citizenship Rights to Filipino Veterans Lacking U.S. Records


Filipino World War II veterans seeking American citizenship can submit records from their homeland as sufficient proof of service, the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled this week.

The decision, affirming a lower court ruling, extends naturalization rights to four elderly Filipinos whose records of war service on behalf of the United States are not on file at the Army personnel records center in St. Louis.

Moreover, the broadly written appellate decision is likely to assist thousands of other veterans in the Philippines and the United States attempting to take advantage of a 1990 immigration law granting citizenship rights to all Filipino veterans of World War II.

The court ruling affirmed that the Immigration and Naturalization Service has wrongly interpreted the 1990 law by restricting citizenship benefits only to those whose records of service can be found in Army records.

In some cases, according to trial testimony, accurate service rosters of guerrilla soldiers were not maintained because of fears that they would fall into the hands of occupying Japanese forces. Other records were lost or destroyed in a fire, according to testimony.

The INS argued that if substitute documents were deemed acceptable, cases of fraud could result.

"The INS would have us believe that Congress intended to deny the benefits of naturalization to Philippine veterans who actually fought with U.S. soldiers, solely because records of their service are not to be found among the U.S. Army records in St. Louis," the 9th Circuit ruling states. "Congress has directed that citizenship be granted to Filipinos who are otherwise eligible and can prove their service with documents . . . including Philippine government records."

At the outset of the war, President Franklin D. Roosevelt incorporated the armed services of the Philippines, then a U.S. colony, into the American military and pledged citizenship to Filipinos who took up arms against the Japanese. The 1990 law restored citizenship rights to veterans who were stymied when Roosevelt's pledge was rescinded in 1946.

The ruling was hailed Friday by officials of Filipino American veterans groups. "We showed loyalty in those days and should be rewarded," said Nazario Santos, World War II veterans coordinator for the United Filipino Veterans of America chapter in San Diego.

Arcadio Samia, a retired Filipino schoolteacher who has been denied citizenship because of the records hassle, said he has been "dreaming of this" for years. "I've prayed to God that this time would come," said Samia, 74. "I'm glad I've been able to survive this long."

Encino attorney Philip D. Abramowitz, who represented the four veterans, said he has more than 150 additional clients likely to be affected. "The language is pretty broad--it says in all cases the INS must accept Philippine documents," Abramowitz said.

A spokesman for the Justice Department, which could appeal the case to the U.S. Supreme Court, did not return a call for comment.

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