Army was wrong to discharge his immigrant

August 24, 2018

There is a disconnect in the case of former Army Spc. Yea Ji Sea and it goes to the heart of why the Pentagon’s eagerness to boot out noncitizen soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines is nonsensical. Her case also serves as one more piece of evidence that this administration’s immigration policies are more broadly irrational.

Sea joined the service four-and-one-half years ago through a program that promised immigrants a fast track to citizenship. By all accounts she served well, but was discharged after the Trump administration shut down the program — the Military Accessions Vital to the National Interest program or MAVNI. This followed the Obama administration’s suspension of the program, citing security concerns that, it’s clear now, were unfounded.

She was discharged though she wanted to stay in the service. Here’s the disconnect: Two weeks later, the Justice Department approved her for another fast track — also to citizenship. Sea’s circumstances were the subject of an Express-News article recently by Sig Christenson.

The military believed her language skills — she speaks Korean — were important. And they proved so when she served in South Korea as an ambulance driver and pharmacy technician. She also translated for Army doctors. She came to this country when she was 9 and was one of more than 10,000 immigrants recruited through the program, mostly into the Army.

An Army review found that “some” of the MAVNI recruits may have made or possessed fraudulent student visas before joining. Theoretically, this rendered them vulnerable to being security risks. However, as Christenson reported, a RAND Corp study found “no publicly available reports of MAVNI recruits engaging in terror-, sabotage- or espionage-related activities.”

In a citizenship interview in 2014, Sea incorrectly stated that a date on a form filled in for her by a corrupt immigration agent was accurate, according to the article. It wasn’t and the government rejected her application. After more than a year of demonstrating “good moral character,” she was allowed to reapply. The American Civil Liberties Union sued on her behalf after the government let two years lapse without acting on her application.

A judge changed that earlier this month, ordering the government to explain why it had not acted. The Justice Department then sent an email shortly after approving her naturalization application. She was scheduled to be sworn in this week.

Which begs the question: Worthy enough to become a citizen but unworthy of remaining in the Army?

Sea will be able to rejoin the military after she gains citizenship if she chooses. But there is no credible reason why the Army should have so cruelly discarded her in the first place. Yes, it started with that Army review in the Obama administration but came to a head with the Trump administration’s shutdown of MAVNI for no credible reason.

As with much of the Trump administration’s immigration policies, this has all the earmarks of being all about knee-jerk biases — in this case, involving “foreigners” in the Army. But we also have a push for a border wall to “secure” a border that has never been more secure. We have overheated rhetoric about threats that immigrants — with and without documents — pose that bear no resemblance to facts on the ground, even if undocumented immigrants do — less than the native born — commit crimes, some heinous.

Some of those immigrants booted out of the military are also threatened with deportation. And asylum seekers, who have a legal right to walk up to the border to ask for refuge, are separated from their children and deported, their children in too many cases remaining.

Sea’s story might have a happy ending, but, overall, this is altogether still madness.

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