Fighting for Family: Veteran trying to change immigration law to bring daughter home

A La Crosse veteran is preparing for a whole new kind of fight for freedom. He’s hoping to bring his daughter home, but will have to change the law to do so.

At 17 years old, John Haines joined the United States Navy. Between 1973 and 1975, he served aboard the USS Kitty Hawk off the coast of Vietnam.

“There was a huge U.S. presence in the Philippines during the Vietnam conflict,” said Haines, sitting outside his home.

He never really considered that he may have fathered a child during his service until the late spring of 2011, when he got an unexpected message.

“A woman came on Facebook and said, ‘Hi. I think you’re my dad,'” Haines said.

At first, he dismissed the message until she started naming off information only few would know. That’s when their relationship began.

“I really wanted to know him,” said Jannette San Buenaventura, in a phone interview.

Using information from her mother, Jannette had been searching for her father since she was a young child in the Philippines.

“We tried to send letters to the embassy, and the embassy replied that no name like that, John Thomas Haines, [was there] at that time,” San Buenaventura said.

She almost gave up, until she saw his photo on Facebook.

“I thought to myself, this is my dad. This is my dad,” San Buenaventura said.

John decided there was some merit to the message.

“I said, ‘would you agree to a DNA test to verify your claim? [She replied], well, yes!'” Haines said.

He found a company that could do the test in both countries.

“I got a letter in the mail that said congratulations Mr. Haines. you’re the proud father of a 38-year-old bouncing baby girl!” Haines said.

After some soul searching, he asked his daughter what she wanted to do. Jannette was willing to leave the only life she ever knew to live in America.

“To take care of my dad. To spend time with him and to be a whole family that I did not experience when I was young,” San Buenaventura said.

They found immigration laws for similar situations — the Amerasian Immigration Act of 1982 and later the Amerasian Homecoming Act 1987. Both created an expedited process for thousands of children fathered by U.S. citizens during the war era in Cambodia, Korea, Laos, Thailand, and Vietnam to immigrate to America. But the Philippines wasn’t included.

“And the way the current codes are you just plain can’t get your adult children into the country,” Haines said.

So, there was only one thing he could do.

“If you see something wrong, it’s your duty as a citizen to change it,” Haines said.

He headed to Washington, D.C., to find someone who could do just that.

“Persistence does pay,” said Rep. Ron Kind, D-Wisconsin.

John’s story caught the attention of U.S. Rep. Ron Kind.

“What we’re trying to do with this legislation in a bipartisan way is make it easier for service members who had sons and daughters overseas during their deployment to bring those children into America through an expedited visa process,” Kind said.

Which for some, may happen sooner than applying for full citizenship which can take years, if at all.

“Rather than putting them at the back of the line, through a very long and sometimes uncertain visa application process, this would provide more focus and try to expedite that for them so that they can rejoin their father or mother, as the case is, here in America,” Kind said.

The bill creates a non-immigrant visa for the adult children of a U.S. citizen who served on active duty abroad. That would be allowed them and their spouse or child to live in the United States for up to seven years with the chance to become a permanent resident.

“What this bill does is it simply allows veterans like myself to be able to provide the same freedom and privilege to our children that we gave everybody else’s,” Haines said.

For now, John hopes to visit Jannette and his grandchildren in the Philippines soon, as he continues to work to bring them home.

“We never quit,” San Buenaventura said.

“Never quit,” Haines replied.

The bill was referred to the subcommittee on immigration and border security in March of 2017. Rep. Kind is calling for a hearing on it to receive feedback. They hope to have it brought to the House floor for a vote later this year.