HomeBad Ass AsiansImmigrant Soldier Sues for Citizenship after Getting Booted Out of the Army

Immigrant Soldier Sues for Citizenship after Getting Booted Out of the Army

Yea Ji Sea
Views from the Edge
Yea Ji Sea was so highly respected by her supervisors in the U.S. Army that one of them wrote she “volunteers for deployments willing to die for a country she loves… I would trust her with my life and (she) deserves citizenship more than most.”

But Sea, 29, who has lived in the U.S. since she was a child and who served for more than four years in the Army and won two medals, was discharged Friday  at Joint Base San Antonio-Fort Sam Houston. Sea lives in fear that she will be deported at any moment.

“Right now I’m just worried about if I should take a flight home or drive home. I don’t know what’s safer,” Sea told the San Antonio Express, explaining that she wants to avoid ICE, which has detained other discharged soldiers, as she heads to Los Angeles. “I’ve been trying to think of the safest route to go back home. I’m going to give myself a couple of more days to think about it.”

Donald Trump’s heartless “zero tolerance” policy towards refugee families applying for asylum appears to be extended towards all undocumented immigrants, even if they have not committed a crime. That includes noncitizen immigrants who thought serving in the military would be a route to citizenship.

Sea’s application for citizenship, filed nearly two years ago, has apparently not been acted upon. She hasn’t even been granted an interview.

Without citizenship, this veteran who served her adopted country honorably, could be arrested and deported.

The American Civil Liberties Union Foundation of Southern California filed a lawsuit July 17 in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles to force the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services to issue a decision on her citizenship application.

The lawsuit charges that the delay in the application decision is in violation of the landmark Administrative Procedure Act that requires the government to process applications “within a reasonable time.” A hearing is scheduled for Aug. 14 in federal district court.”Specialist Sea has honorably served in the U.S. Army for over four years and was promised U.S. citizenship in exchange for her service,” said Sameer Ahmed, staff attorney at the ACLU SoCal. “The government should make good on its promise instead of unfairly discharging her from the Army and subjecting her to arrest, detention, and deportation by ICE.”

Sea was 9-years old when she was brought to this country from South Korea by her parents in 1998. She grew up in the Los Angeles area, enlisted in the Army in 2013 under the Military Accessions Vital to the National Interest (MAVNI) program that allows recruitment of non-citizens who have skills critical to the needs of the U.S. military, including physicians, nurses, and experts in certain foreign languages. Sea can speak Korean and qualified as a healthcare specialist.

She had a variety of postings during her time in the Army. While stationed in South Korea, Sea served as an ambulance aid driver and was the only pharmacy technician for the entire Camp Casey Combined Troop Station that served more than 1,800 soldiers. In her off hours, she served as a translator for doctors and helped care for injured soldiers.

Sea, stationed most recently at Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio, earned two Army Achievement Medals “for exceptionally meritorious service.” The medal certificate for her service in the 2nd Battalion, 9th Infantry Regiment (also known as the Manchu Battalion), cites her “dedication to duty, selfless service and outstanding performance.” It goes on to say, “Her actions reflect great credit upon herself, the Manchu Battalion and the United State Army.” On September 1, 2015 she was promoted to specialist.

The MAVNI program required inductees to apply for U.S. citizenship upon entering the military. Sea willingly applied, but unbeknownst to her, the owner of the school through which she had previously received a student visa had been working with a corrupt immigration agent to create false forms for visa applications. (The school owner was later convicted and sent to prison).

“The fraud was actually perpetrated by the corrupt CBP officer,” Sameer Ahmed, a staff attorney with the ACLU of Southern California, told The Washington Post. “She had no idea there was this . . . document that was put in her student visa application. No one told her.” The immigration agent pleaded guilty and was sentenced to six months in prison.

Department of Defense officials ended the MAVNI program last year on the basis of potential threats to national security by troops in the program, even though a study by military contractor RAND was skeptical, saying it was “unable to estimate the specific security risk” by those in it. RAND called for a modest expansion of the program.During Sea’s interview then about her citizenship application, she nervously stated that a date on a false form drawn up for her by the immigration agent was accurate though it was not. Because of this mistake, her initial citizenship application was denied. But she was permitted to reapply after demonstrating, for at least one year, “good moral character.”

Sea did just that, reapplying on July 26, 2016, almost exactly two years ago. Because the obtainment of her student visa status was challenged, she also applied for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) status based on the fact that she was brought to the U.S. before her 16th birthday. But the DACA application has also not been processed by the government.

Without citizenship or DACA, she could be arrested and deported by the country she served honorably.

Read the lawsuit filed on behalf of Sea, here: https://www.aclusocal.org/sites/default/files/aclu_socal_sea_v_dhs_20180719_complaint.pdf

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