A U.S. Army soldier has served in the military for the past four-and-a-half years. However, the “reward” for putting her life on the line is not something she expected.
United States Army Specialist Yea Ji Sea, who works as a medic at the Brooke Army Medical Center in Texas, may soon be deported to South Korea, through no fault of her own. The ACLU is now suing the Department of Homeland Security and U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services on her behalf.
Sea came to the United States on a visitor’s visa in 1998 when she was just 9 years old. She was able to remain in her visitor visa and an investor visa from 1998 to March 2008. She then applied for an F-1 student visa which was granted on October 2008.
Sea , when she was in her early 20s, learned about the Military Accessions Vital to the National Interest program, or MAVNI, which allows non-citizens who entered the country on a visa to enlist in the Army. She joined the program in October 2013 hoping her military career would expedite her naturalization process.
After serving in Oklahoma and Texas as an Army health-care specialist she was deployed in South Korea as an ambulance aid driver and pharmacy technician. Her dedication to her job soon earned her a promotion and two Army Achievement Medals.
Yet, all her accomplishments went down the drain when the Army learnt of a deficiency in her F-1 visa.
Sea had obtained the visa from an institution called the Neo-America Language School, which, according to her, is listed in MAVNI’s approved list. However, at the time, the school owner was bribing a corrupt U.S. Customs and Border Protection official to rubber-stamp visas.
“The fraud was actually perpetrated by the corrupt CBP officer,” ACLU attorney Sameer Ahmed said. “She had no idea there was this … document that was put in her student visa application. No one told her.”
Sea had no idea her visa was invalid but in 2013, the official pleaded guilty to the bribes and was sentenced to six months in prison.
However, officials flagged her visa tied to the school when she applied for citizenship in 2014. The government rejected her bid, claiming she was not a person of “good moral character” — even though it was the abuse of power inside the CBP agency rather than her own fault that her visa was fake.
Sea, nevertheless, continued with her duties with the Army — until she was called into the commander’s office in July. The senior officer told her, her time in the military was done and that she would be given an honorable discharge. It should be noted that Army knew of her problematic visa since 2014.
“They knew about the student visa at least since 2014, and she’s been honorably serving the military since then,” Ahmed said. “Throughout the entire time, they never sought to discharge her. They’re claiming now the reason for discharging her is based on her being an alien, which makes no sense. Everyone in the MAVNI program is an alien.”
Even if Sea was not part of the program, she would still be eligible to serve in the Army under DACA, according to her lawyer.
In the past few months, there have been reportedly 40 MAVNI participants who have been discharged or whose status had been put on hold.
Her attorney think it is “part of a larger anti-immigration scheme of the Trump administration” to drive out immigrants from the country.
Sea’s fate remains in limbo for now.
“My biggest fear right now is my commander calling [Immigrations and Customs Enforcement],” Sea said. “I’ve been unofficially warned that ICE might come to pick me up. After 4.5 years, once I get my discharge papers, my reality is ICE might come to pick me up.”
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