Judge Throws Out Plea to Release Asian American Iraq War Veteran From Immigration Jail

A South Korean immigrant who served in the United States military during the Iraq War remains in government custody as he continues to fight his impending deportation.

Army veteran Chong Kim, a green card holder from Portland, Oregon, reportedly struggled with drug addiction, homelessness, and PTSD after serving in Iraq in 2009 and 2010.

According to the Associated Press, Kim was arrested earlier this year for charges based on an old criminal record. He was apprehended in April for burglary and another case, which his lawyer described as a “dumb prank,” involving him lighting a beer bottle filled with gasoline on fire, and throwing it at a concrete outer back wall of a hardware store.

Kim will remain at the detention center in Tacoma, Washington, one of the country’s largest Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) facilities, after a Washington state immigration judge, Theresa Scala, denied his release on Wednesday.

Judge Scala reportedly determined that Kim poses a danger to the public or a risk of flight. Lawyer Tim Warden-Hertz of the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project, who represents Kim in his case, said the judge did not explain her rationale while stating her decision.

“He admits he had a drug problem and that he committed crimes when he was under the influence — he’s not proud of it,” Warden-Hertz said. “To find he’s a danger or a flight risk now doesn’t make any sense.”

Prior to his arrest, Kim reportedly completed a substance abuse treatment program run by the Department of Veterans Affairs. While he has done well since the program, Kim is still in danger of being deported because of his convictions.

In the petition for Kim’s release, Warden-Hertz submitted letters from medical experts who vouched for Kim’s progress following the substance abuse program.

“Mr. Kim demonstrated exceptional teamwork,” wrote Cynthia Fahy, a clinical nurse manager at the Portland VA Health Care System.

“It was regularly reported to this manager that he often went out of his way to assist other housekeepers and nurses.”

Matt Luce, 41, a friend of Kim who attended the Wednesday hearing, said:

“It’s just wrong to be deporting an Army veteran. Despite his convictions, he was on and continues to be on the right path. This is just a travesty of justice.”

Warden-Hertz said he is set to appeal the decision, noting how difficult it was to obtain a bond in the immigration detention system.

U.S. Customs and Immigration Enforcement stated earlier that Kim was arrested after “it was determined he has a prior felony conviction in Multnomah County for the attempt to commit arson in the first degree, among other charges.”

Kim, who came to the U.S. when he was 5, over 35 years ago, became a legal permanent resident in 1981. He joined the National Guard back in 2005, and was honorably discharged only after serving in Iraq. He does not speak Korean, according to his friends.

“It frightens me to think about,” Kim told the Guardian in July. “How impossible a task would it be to rebuild my life from scratch? I would feel like I’m utterly alone.”

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