The ACLU announced Friday it filed a lawsuit in Los Angeles to force U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services to issue a decision on the citizenship application of a Korean-born soldier who is being discharged from the U.S. Army because she allegedly obtained a student visa illegally years ago.
Yea Ji Sea, 29, of Gardena, who has lived in the U.S. since she was a child, was notified of her honorable discharge Thursday, according to the American Civil Liberties Union Foundation of Southern California.
The ACLU filed suit the same day in Los Angeles federal court, alleging that the delay in the application decision is in violation of the Administrative Procedure Act that requires the government to process applications “within a reasonable time.”
An ICE spokesperson did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Sea’s application for citizenship, filed nearly two years ago, has seemingly not been acted upon, and she hasn’t been given an interview with the agency, according to the legal rights group.
The ACLU said that Sea, who served for more than four years in the Army and won two medals, was so respected by her Army supervisors that one wrote that 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.”
Without citizenship, the veteran could be arrested and deported, according to the ACLU.
“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, who was brought to this country from South Korea by her parents in 1998 and 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, according to the ACLU. In her off hours, she served as a translator for doctors and helped care for injured soldiers.
Most recently while serving at Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio, Texas, Sea earned two Army Achievement Medals “for exceptionally meritorious service,” according to the lawsuit.
The MAVNI program, under which she enlisted, required inductees to apply for U.S. citizenship upon entering the military. Sea complied, 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 ACLU said, adding that the school’s owner was later convicted and sent to prison.
The ACLU alleges that during Sea’s interview then about her citizenship application, she stated that a date on a false form drawn up for her by the immigration agent was accurate though it was not. Because of that mistake, Sea’s initial citizenship application was denied, but she was permitted to reapply after demonstrating, for at least one year, “good moral character,” according to the ACLU.
Sea re-applied 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, the ACLU contends.