Chong Kim was a member of the U.S. National Guard who served in Iraq as a driver of a Mine Resistant Ambush Protected (M-Rap) vehicle in 2009 and 2010. Following his tour of duty, he was honorably discharged.
Since his time in Iraq, Kim has suffered from post-traumatic stress and battled drug addiction, even spending some time homeless. Now, because of several criminal convictions, he's in danger of being deported from the country he served in uniform, and the only home he's really ever known.
About Chong Kim
Kim came to the United States from South Korea with his parents when he was 5 years old, and lives in Portland, Oregon.
He is a permanent resident (green card holder) of the United States, and has been since 1981. He worked at UPS and at his family's business before joining the military.
Before he was detained, Kim had completed a four-month inpatient rehabilitation program with the Department of Veterans Affairs, and had taken a job working as a housekeeper at a VA hospital.
In 2013, Kim was convicted of burglary for trying to steal groceries. He was threatened with deportation after that conviction, but was let go with a warning not to get in trouble again.
In 2016, he was convicted of attempted arson after filling a beer bottle with gasoline, lighting it on fire and throwing it at the concrete outer wall of a hardware store. He has since said he did it while high and bored, and didn't mean any harm.
He was arrested by immigration agents in April, and is being held at a detention center in Tacoma, Washington. On Wednesday, an immigration judge declined to release him as Kim fights the deportation attempts.
What people are saying
U.S. Customs and Immigration Enforcement has not responded to an Associated Press request for comment.
Matt Luce, a high school classmate of Kim's, said it's an injustice that the government is trying to deport Kim when he's made efforts to turn his life around.
"It’s just wrong to be deporting an Army veteran,” Luce said. “Despite his convictions, he was on and continues to be on the right path. This is just a travesty of justice."
Jason Phebus was in the same VA recovery program as Kim, and credited Kim with helping him get his life back together. He expressed outrage that someone who served the country honorably would be deported.
“He was man enough to stand up and serve this country, in combat no less,” Phebus said. “Now he’s not fit to be here?”
Background on deportation of veterans
More than 230 veterans were deported last year, according to an ACLU report. Naturalization is no longer a required part of the enlistment process, meaning many non-citizens serve in the military.
Immigration laws and policies targeting criminal offenders that date back to the Bill Clinton administration have led to many veterans being deported back to their countries of origin.
Because servicemen and women who serve in conflict zones often suffer from PTSD and can be susceptible to destructive addictions and behaviors, this subset of the immigrant population can find itself in the crosshairs of immigration laws that don't always give them special consideration for military service.
For now, Kim will remain in detention and await his fate as his attorney fights on his behalf. He said the uncertainty of his future is unnerving.
"It’s frightening, because I don’t know what happens to people when they leave here," Kim said.
Visit this website for more information on post-traumatic stress disorder, and to find out ways you or someone you know can get help if you suffer from the condition.
(H/T Associated Press and The Guardian)