CELEBRATING FILIPINO AMERICAN HERITAGE MONTH -- (Extensions of Remarks - October 02, 2008)
HON. NEIL ABERCROMBIE
IN THE HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES
THURSDAY, OCTOBER 2, 2008
* Mr. ABERCROMBIE. Madam Speaker, I rise today in honor of Filipino American Heritage Month. It is with great pleasure that I join Filipinos across the country in recognizing the history, culture, and accomplishments of Filipino Americans. Filipino American Heritage Month has been celebrated nationwide every October since 1988, and the Hawaii State Legislature, on April 15, 2008, was the first governing body to officially recognize the month.
* There are nearly 4 million people of Filipino descent in the United States, and a sizeable population of this group resides in my home State of Hawaii. Filipino Americans have been in the United States since the 18th century and have been in Hawaii since 1906, when the first Filipino migrant laborers came to Hawaii to work on the sugar and pineapple plantations. Those Filipinos, their descendants, and the recent immigrants to Hawaii and America have made an indelible impact on our culture, and we should be sure to take this month to recognize the contributions of Filipino Americans.
* While Filipinos have made great contributions to America, it is important that we not overlook the needs of the community, including a fair and sensible immigration policy. I chair the Immigration Task Force of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus, CAPAC, and I will continue to fight for the needs of families within the immigration debate.
* One of the major issues for the Filipino Americans and other Asian Pacific American communities is family reunification: allowing relatives of legal permanent residents, other than spouses and minor children, to immigrate legally and join their families. It can take the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) as long as 23 years to even consider an application for a family member from the Philippines.
* The extended family is a foundation in many of our cultures, and it provides real benefits to the greater society as well. Families often pool resources to educate children or purchase homes and establish roots in their communities. We often see extended family networks starting businesses, providing economic development and jobs. Congress must act to ensure that families who will contribute to American society are not punished by our immigration system.
* The treatment of Filipinos who fought with the United States Armed Forces in World War II is also an issue of great concern for Filipino Americans and a dark spot in American History. The Philippines became a United States possession after Spain ceded it as part of the treaty ending the Spanish-American War in 1898. In 1934, Congress created a 10-year time frame for independence through the ``Philippine Independence Act.'' However, since the Philippines remained a colonial possession until 1946 the United States retained the right to call upon military forces organized by the Philippine government into the United States Armed Forces.
* On July 26, 1941, President Franklin D. Roosevelt issued a military order that brought the Philippine Commonwealth Forces under the control of the United States Armed Forces during World War II. These men bravely fought with our own troops during the war, and many perished or suffered severe wounds from the battles in the western Pacific Theater. After the surrender of Japan, Congress required the Philippine Forces to continue service their service. Many helped occupy lands, many oversaw military operations, and many made the ultimate sacrifice to secure our victory in World War II. Yet, when wartime service ended formally in 1946 they did not receive the same benefits and the same treatment as other American soldiers.
* Yet, for all their heroic and courageous actions, Congress passed the ``Recession Act'' in February 1946. This essentially denied Filipino veterans any of the benefits that their American comrades in arms received, including full access to veterans' health care; service-connected disability compensation, non-service connected disability compensation, dependent indemnity compensation, death pension, and full burial benefits. No other group of veterans has been systematically denied these benefits. While we are nearly out of time to right this wrong this Congress, I look forward to working with my colleagues in the 111th Congress on ensuring Filipino veterans the benefits they deserve.
* Filipino Americans have enriched the fabric of America, and I am proud to celebrate Filipino American Heritage Month. I look forward to continuing to work with the Filipino American community to address the needs and concerns of Filipino Americans throughout the United States.