HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - More than 40 Filipino World War II vets and their families gathered at the state Capitol on Saturday to learn more about a program aimed at helping them reunite with family in the Philippines.
U.S. Senator Mazie Hirono, D-Hawaii, hosted the outreach event to help Hawaii Filipino vets take advantage of a program introduced in July 2015.
Under the program, Filipino World War II vets, their spouses and other eligible family members can apply for a "grant of parole" that allows family members to come to the United States as they wait for immigrant visas to be approved.
Due to backlogs, it can take more than 20 years for immigration applications to be reviewed.
World War II veteran Oscar Bangui was among those who attended Saturday's informational session.
"It's important for my family to come here because I'm already old," he said. "I am asking for my grandchildren, already old, 20 years old, can they get parole?"
Hirono worked with the Obama administration to launch the program for Filipino vets. Some 250,000 Filipinos fought with the United States during World War II, and at least 60,000 were killed.
"The sooner we can get this off the ground and help them, the better," she said. "I myself am an immigrant so I know how important it is to be reunited with your family."
The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services began taking applications under the parole program last month.
"I should be reunited with my brothers -- three brothers and grandchildren," said Shirley Cabug, whose father was a World War II vet. He recently died and her three brothers -- stuck in the Philippines -- won't be able to attend his funeral.
She is hoping the new parole program will soon bring her family together again.
"I was so glad and I think God blessed us because there is another alternative that we will be reunited with my brothers," Cabug said.
USCIS estimates it will take about six months from the time an application is received for relatives to be given the OK to be paroled into the United States.
For more information on the program, click here.