SEATTLE — An immigrant rights group is asking the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to release an Iraq War veteran who has been detained for more than three months while waiting to learn whether he’ll be deported.
Chong Kim, a South Korean immigrant and green card holder from Portland, Oregon, joined the National Guard in 2005 and served in Iraq in 2009 and 2010. He came to the U.S. more than 35 years ago, at age 5, and he became a legal permanent resident in 1981.
The Seattle-based Northwest Immigrant Rights Project said Friday that after Kim was honorably discharged, he struggled with homelessness, addiction and post-traumatic stress, leading to convictions for burglary and other charges in 2013 and for attempted arson last year. He’s been doing well since completing a 4½-month inpatient treatment program run by the Department of Veterans Affairs in January, the group said.
Immigration agents arrested him April 5 and brought him to a detention center in Tacoma, Washington. They plan to deport him because of his convictions. But his attorney, the immigration group’s Tim Warden-Hertz, is fighting it, saying the attempted arson conviction is not one that should prompt his deportation.
“You commit a crime, go to jail, but there’s no reason we should ever deport a combat veteran,” former Staff Sgt. Ryan Kell, who was Kim’s team leader in Iraq, said Friday. “What’s he going to do in Korea? He doesn’t speak Korean. He hasn’t been there since he was 3.”
Warden-Hertz said that “while Mr. Kim has taken responsibility for his mistakes, the government refuses to see him as anything other than a list of criminal convictions.”