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Editorial | Island Voices

Column: Help U.S. vets reunite with their children stranded abroad

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Two years ago, Christina Waid, a 31-year-old resident of Kailua, received shocking news from across the Pacific Ocean. Waid and her family discovered that she had an older sister in the Philippines who had been searching for them her entire life.

Waid’s father, Chad Southard, had served in the Marine Corps and was stationed in the Philippines in 1986. While there, he dated Marivic Leyson, a Filipina woman, but the military highly discouraged — if not effectively prohibited — servicemen from marrying local women. After dating Marivic for several months, the Marine Corps abruptly returned Southard to Japan, giving him only 24 hours’ notice and forbidding him from leaving the base until his departure. He was unable to say goodbye to Marivic, and he left not knowing that she was pregnant with his daughter, Shira.

In April 2019, Southard received a message from Shira, now 34 and living in Manila, on, where he and Waid had undertaken DNA tests. In her message, Shira wrote that the website notified her that it had found a parent-child DNA match with Southard. She believed Southard was her father and sent a picture of Southard and her biological mother confirming the relationship. The website also confirmed that Shira was Waid’s sister.

Southard and Waid exchanged messages with Shira and began looking into bringing Shira to the United States. They discovered an unfortunate reality: U.S. immigration law effectively bans Shira from ever coming to America. Although children born abroad to a U.S. father and a foreign mother are entitled to U.S. citizenship, the father must legitimiize their relationship before the child turns 18. (Children born to a U.S. mother abroad automatically obtain U.S. citizenship at birth.) At this point, there was nothing that Shira, now 34, or her family could do to claim her citizenship. Shira is effectively stranded in the Philippines, permanently separated from her family.

With Shira unable to come to the U.S., Waid — despite her busy schedule as a pediatric nurse raising a 1-year-old son — is making plans to visit Shira in the Philippines with her father and her younger sister, Vanessa, once the pandemic is over.

A change in immigration law could help veteran families like Waid’s reunite with their loved ones. In 2019, Congressman Ron Kind of Wisconsin introduced the Uniting Families Act, which would permit adult children of U.S. servicemen stranded overseas to come to the United States, as long as they submit DNA evidence confirming that they are children of a U.S. veteran. The bill is likely to be reintroduced in the U.S. House of Representatives this year, but to date, has never been introduced in the U.S. Senate.

With Congress and the White House seriously considering immigration reform, it is imperative that veterans and their children stranded abroad do not get overlooked once again. Individuals like Shira are American by blood, and immigration law should permit them to reunite with their families. While Southard and Waid discovered Shira only two years ago, other veterans have been struggling to reunite with their children for years, if not decades.

Hawaii’s U.S. senators, Mazie Hirono and Brian Schatz, have been resolute supporters of family reunification in immigration reform, and they could be incredible champions of this issue as well. I urge the people of Hawaii to contact Sens. Hirono and Schatz and call upon them to introduce the Uniting Families Act in the U.S. Senate.


Christopher M. Lapinig is an attorney, based in Los Angeles, who received his J.D. from Yale Law School.

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