Senator Demands Answers After Deported Marine Blocked From Entering US for Citizenship Interview

An Illinois Senator is demanding answers from the Trump administration about the denial of a citizenship interview for a US Marine.

Last month, Roman Sabal was traveling from his home country of Belize to Tijuana, Mexico to attend an appointment with US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) in San Diego, California, The San Diego Union-Tribune previously reported. When he reached the San Ysidro Port of Entry in California with his attorney, Victoria Starrett, border officials reportedly turned him away.

Sabal, 58, came to the US with a tourist visa hoping to become a Marine. He joined the Marine Corps in 1987 and, at the time, told his recruiter that he was a US citizen. He eventually told the truth and was told at boot camp it was not an issue.

"I was told, 'Don't worry about it. You're a Marine now. You'll be OK,'" Sabal said, according to The San Diego Union-Tribune. "I learned later on that wasn't true."

He met his wife in Jacksonville, Florida, and they started their family. He began the citizenship process in 1995 but never heard a final answer on his application. In the 2000s, Sabal traveled back to Belize for medical help with his diabetes. When he tried to re-enter the US in Chicago, where his family had been living, he had trouble getting through customs, according to the publication.

The government opened an immigration court hearing against Sabal, but he told the publication he was never told about his hearing date. He returned to Belize to be medically treated for his diabetes again and when he tried to enter the US, he was told a judge had previously ordered him to be deported, The San Diego Union-Tribune previously reported.

On August 8, Senator Tammy Duckworth, who is a combat veteran, wrote a letter to the US Department of Homeland Security and to the US Department of State asking the agencies to allow Sabal to re-enter the country so he can attend his citizenship interview and be reunited with his family.

“This lack of clarity deprives Veterans of a fair chance for citizenship and further delays the naturalization process,” Duckworth wrote.

“Missing a citizenship interview can add several months to the process — an unnecessary delay that can be avoided with appropriate Federal guidance. Media outlets indicate that there are numerous Veterans with citizenship cases who will likely face significant challenges to enter the United States for their naturalization interview.

“Unfortunately, the current policy is ambiguous and complex,” the letter continues. “Given that a Veteran who served honorably in the U.S. Armed Forces is currently stuck at the San Ysidro Port of Entry, we urge you to take immediate action to ensure he can attend his naturalization interview.”

In April, Duckworth, along with other Democratic lawmakers, sponsored three bills that would prohibit deportation for US veterans and would grant them health care called: the Veterans Visa and Protection AAct, the Healthcare Opportunities for Patriots in Exiles (HOPE), and the Immigrant Veterans Eligibility Tracking System (I-VETS) Act. The bills were first introduced by Senator Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii).

The Veterans Visa and Protection Act of 2019 would create a visa program where “deported veterans may enter the United States as legal permanent residents.” The bill would also “enable legal permanent residents to become naturalized citizens through military service.”

“When immigrants step up to serve our country, it is unacceptable to deny them the very same rights and opportunities they risk their lives defending. We must appropriately recognize these veterans, and that starts with protecting their access to care and their right to remain in their communities,” Hirono said in a statement at the time. “The Veterans Visa and Protection Act, the HOPE Act, and the I-VETS Act would help veterans seek legal permanent residency and citizenship. It would also ensure all veterans can access medical care for service-connected medical conditions.”

In June, an immigration attorney said the Trump administration is trying to scale back a program that gives protection to the undocumented family members of active-duty US service members. Immigration attorney Margaret Stock previously told NPR that President Donald Trump is targeting the “parole in place program,” which is a temporary program that provides protection to the undocumented family members of those serving in the US military.

“It’s going to create chaos in the military,” Stock previously told NPR. “The troops can’t concentrate on their military jobs when they’re worried about their family members being deported.”

About the Author

Maria Perez is a breaking news writer for The North Star. She has an M.A. in Urban Reporting from the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism. She has been published in the various venues, including Newsweek, Juvenile Justice Information Exchange, City Limits, and local newspapers like The Wave and The Home Reporter.