On-Again, Off-Again American
Man Without a Country No Longer Adrift; Judge Returns U.S. Citizenship
April 16, 1991|ALAN ABRAHAMSON, TIMES STAFF WRITER
Gregorio Calantas Rivera, a native Filipino, served five years as a lieutenant in the U.S. Army during World War II. He
was held as a Japanese prisoner of war. He survived the infamous Bataan death march.
The United States expressed its gratitude by giving him citizenship. But then the U.S. government abruptly yanked it away,
saying immigration authorities made a mistake. For the past six years, Rivera, now 74, who lives in San Diego, has been a
man without a country.
On Monday, the same federal judge in San Diego who officially had deemed Rivera stateless ruled that a technicality in
the immigration laws had made him eligible again for American citizenship. U.S. District Judge Gordon Thompson Jr. administered
the oath immediately.
When the oath was done, at the end of a seven-minute hearing that brought to a close six years of legal limbo, Rivera,
clutching an American flag, his wife, Paciencia, and naturalization certificate 14741053, said, "I feel great now."
Immigration officials made no special exception for
Rivera or recognition of his valor. Instead, they concluded that he was eligible to become an American through the amnesty
provisions afforded farm workers under the 1986 immigration reforms.
Rivera qualified because he used to pick grapes up and down California.
"My faith in divine providence, as well as the great leaders of America and the fairness and justice of the American system,
made me feel that eventually I would again triumph," he said.
His wife said, "I see that fairness has been shown to us."
Rivera's long quest for citizenship is not unique. An estimated 150,000 Filipino veterans served the U.S. military during
World War II.
For them, citizenship, first promised 50 years ago, is only two weeks off. Beginning May 1, a bill signed last November
by President Bush offers summary naturalization to Filipino war veterans.
The sweeping bill also sharply raises U.S. immigration limits for Irish, Italian, Polish and other immigrants.
In 1941, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed an executive order incorporating the Philippine armed forces into the U.S.
military, pledging citizenship to Filipinos who joined the fight against Japan. At the time, the Philippines was a U.S. colony.
Rivera, who had been in the Philippine army, joined up.
During the war, Rivera claims, he made an oral request for U.S. citizenship. However, the request never reached American
immigration officials because the commanding officer who received it died during the Bataan death march.
About 10,000 Filipino and American prisoners of war died at the hands of Japanese soldiers during the 55-mile march. Rivera
survived because he escaped into the jungle.
When the war ended, Rivera remained in the Philippines. But, in August, 1982, on a trip to America to visit family, he
decided to apply for citizenship. One of his 13 children, a daughter who lives in San Diego, is married to an American in
the U.S. Navy. Rivera began working in California vineyards.
In November, 1984, Thompson declared Rivera a U.S. citizen based on his military service. Rivera renounced his Philippine
Two months later, however, he was asked to voluntarily give up his U.S. citizenship because officials at the Immigration
and Naturalization Service had erred and allowed him to become a citizen under a law that applied to U.S. veterans from other
countries--but not from the Philippines.
The wartime naturalization program that Roosevelt promised had expired--in 1946. There simply was no law under which Rivera
could become a U.S. citizen based on military service, and he was not eligible for any other program, INS attorney Alan Rabinowitz
Rivera refused to relinquish his citizenship. So on Jan. 29, 1985, Thompson stripped him of it.
Thompson also ruled that Rivera's 1942 request was not legally valid evidence because it never reached U.S. immigration
officials and because Rivera had no way of verifying that he ever made the request.
In 1986, Congress enacted the Immigration Reform and Control Act, which created a pair of amnesty programs offering legal
residence--the familiar "green card"--to two distinct groups, foreigners who could show that they had been residing illegally
in the United States since 1982 and laborers who had done at least 90 days of field work on U.S. farms in recent years.
About 1.1 million foreign residents, more than half of them Mexican citizens residing in California, applied for the farm-worker
amnesty program. On Aug. 6, 1987, Rivera applied.
Last Dec. 17, the INS admitted Rivera for permanent residence. Under a 1952 law, permanent residence status is enough for
a judge to grant American citizenship based on military status, according to court papers filed in Rivera's case by his attorney,
Jonathon P. Foerstel of the Legal Aid Society of San Diego.
This time, the INS concluded that all the prerequisites were met, Rabinowitz said after the hearing Monday before Thompson.
"It was a good ending," Rabinowitz said. "It just took time."
Bataan Death March Survivor's U.S. Citizenship Revoked
Bureaucratic Error Leaves Filipino 'Homeless'
April 08, 1985 GLENN BURKINS, Times Staff Writer
Gregorio Calantas Rivera was a soldier for the Republic of the Philippines before he served six years as a lieutenant in
the U.S. Army during World War II. But today he is a citizen of neither country.
A native-born Filipino, Rivera renounced his Filipino citizenship in November, when U.S. District Judge Gordon Thompson
administered an oath that declared Rivera a U.S. citizen based on his service to this country.
However, two months later, Rivera was asked to voluntarily give up his American citizenship because officials of the Immigration
and Naturalization Service had made a mistake and allowed him to become a citizen under a law that did not apply to him.
When Rivera refused to relinquish his American citizenship, Thompson ordered it revoked in January.
Today, Rivera will once again go before Thompson to plead his case and ask to be granted citizenship in the country for
which he fought and was held as a prisoner of war by Japanese soldiers.
'Man Without a Country'
"He is literally today a man without a country," said Gregory Knoll, director of Legal Aid Society of San Diego, the agency
representing Rivera. "He fought for us and survived the Bataan Death March," a 55-mile march to prison camps during which
about 10,000 American and Filipino prisoners of war died at the hands of Japanese soldiers.
Although the INS takes full responsibility for the mistake, INS attorney Alan Rabinowitz said, no one has been able to
find another special section of law under which to approve Rivera's citizenship. Rivera now has to reapply and be put on a
waiting list like other Filipinos--a process that could take years, Rabinowitz said.
"It's a very rare situation," Rabinowitz said. "I have never had to do that before. It was very unfortunate. It was based
on an error, our error."
The INS incorrectly processed Rivera's citizenship application under a law that applies to U.S. servicemen from some countries--but
not the Philippines.
Vowed to Continue Fight
Rivera, 68, said he is angry at the decision to revoke his U.S. citizenship and vowed to continue the fight.
"We have been brought up and taught the American way of life," he said. "Sometimes I feel naturally frustrated, disappointed
and even angry. I will continue to fight for my case in appeal."
Rivera said he came to America as a visitor in August, 1982, and decided to apply for citizenship because he wanted to
take advantage of all of the things in America that he believes he is entitled to.
He said he and his wife, Baciencia, live in San Diego with a daughter who married an American in the U.S. Navy. He said
he helps support the family by working in grape vineyards in Northern California.
Can't Return to Philippines
The couple also have 12 children in the Philippines, and Rivera said he cannot visit them because he renounced his Philippine
citizenship when he took the American oath, and his passport is no longer valid.
Knoll said he believes Rivera's citizenship should be reinstated immediately because the INS made the mistake, not Rivera.
"I think it's outrageous, a shame and embarrassment to this country," he said. "They (INS) tend not to think of the human
tragedy their decisions cause."
If Rivera wins the appeal, Knoll said, the Legal Aid Society will request that he be re-administered the oath in the courtroom
on the same day.