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L.A. Woman Who Faced Deportation After Serving in the Army to Be Sworn in as U.S. Citizen

A woman who grew up in the Los Angeles area and faced deportation after serving in the U.S. Army for four years has been granted citizenship, the American Civil Liberties Union announced Friday.

Yea Ji Sea, 29, was born in South Korea and brought to the U.S. by her parents in 1998 on a visitor visa, according to a complaint filed by the ACLU.

Sea was raised in Koreatown and Torrance before attending boarding school in Texas, the Los Angeles Times reported. Her status switched to being a dependent of her parents, who obtained investor visas, according to the paper.

Through a language school in Koreatown, Sea later received a student visa.

In 2013, Sea enlisted in the Army under a program that allowed skilled non-citizens to sign up for the U.S. military. (That program, called the Military Accessions Vital to National Interest, was discontinued in 2016 because it was “vulnerable to an unacceptable level of risk from insider threats such as espionage, terrorism and other criminal activity,” a spokeswoman told the L.A. Times.)

Sea’s various postings included serving as an ambulance aid driver in South Korea to working as a health care specialist in Houston, receiving two achievement medals “for exceptionally meritorious service,” court filings show.

She eventually applied for U.S. citizenship, according to the ACLU. That’s when she discovered that the school through which she obtained her student visa had been working with an immigration agent who made fake forms for applicants, the organization said.

“During Sea’s interview then about her citizenship application, she nervously stated that a date on a false form drawn up for her by the immigration agent was accurate though it was not,” the ACLU said. “Because of this mistake, her initial citizenship application was denied.”

She reapplied a second time in 2016. But after two years of “no action” by officials, which made her vulnerable for deportation,  the ACLU filed a lawsuit on her behalf.

Because she was unable to work legally in the U.S., the Department of Defense had to honorably discharge her, ACLU’s complaint said.

On Tuesday, a federal judge in Los Angeles ordered the government to explain why it could not decide on Sea’s citizenship in three weeks, ACLU said. Four days later, Sea received approval on her citizenship application.

“While it shouldn’t have taken our lawsuit for this decorated veteran to get her U.S. citizenship, we are glad the government has made good on its promise under its enlistment program,” ACLU attorney Sameer Ahmed said in a statement.

Sea’s swearing-in ceremony was scheduled for Aug. 24 in Los Angeles.

“I had felt like I was…an American since I was a child, growing up here,” Sea said. “I had hoped for a long career in the Army, but I am so happy now that I will be a citizen.”