LOS ANGELES (CN) – Decorated U.S. Army veteran Yea Ji Sea was promised citizenship in exchange for her military service, which earned her accolades and admiration from superiors, but sued the federal government Thursday for excessive delays on her citizenship application.
Sea, 29, was notified Thursday of her honorable discharge from the army.
Without citizenship, Sea, who grew up in the Los Angeles area, could be arrested and deported, according to attorneys with the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California, which filed a lawsuit in federal court in Los Angeles to force U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services to issue a determination on her application.
“The government should make good on its promise instead of unfairly discharging her from the Army and subjecting her to arrest, detention, and deportation,” said ACLU staff attorney Sameer Ahmed in a statement Friday.
U.S. Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, L. Francis Cissna and Daniel Renaud, director and associate director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, respectively, are also named as defendants in the lawsuit.
The ACLU’s complaint claims that the delay violates the landmark Administrative Procedure Act that requires the government to process applications “within a reasonable time.”
Sea, who was brought to the country from South Korea by her parents in 1998, filed for citizenship nearly two years ago.
The ACLU said in a statement Friday that the application has “seemingly not been acted upon” by immigration officials.
“She hasn’t even been given an interview,” the statement said.
Sea enlisted in the Army in 2013 under the Military Accessions Vital to the National Interest program that grants non-citizens entry into the military if they have critical skills. Non-citizens with skills in medicine, nursing, and foreign language expertise often enlist through this program.
Sea, who speaks Korean and is qualified as a healthcare specialist, applied for citizenship through the program.
According to the complaint, the owner of the school through which she had previously received a student visa had been working with a corrupt U.S Customs and Border Patrol agent to create false forms for visa applications.
Hee Sun Shim, who owned the Neo-America Language School, was later convicted and sent to prison.
Sea was “nervous, scared and unaccompanied by counsel” in an interview with immigration officials when she gave inaccurate information from a false form drawn up by immigration agent Michael Anders, the lawsuit said.
Officials denied her application due to the error but said she could reapply after demonstrating “good moral character” for a year.
Sea also applied for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals status since she was brought to the U.S. before her 16th birthday, but her lawsuit states that her DACA application has also not been processed by the government.
“USCIS adjudicates all naturalization applications fairly, efficiently, and effectively on a case-by-case basis to determine if they meet all standards required under the law,” a USCIS spokesperson said. “While some applications take longer than others to process, all individuals are notified in writing as to the outcome of their determination.”
The Department of Defense did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Friday.
While stationed in South Korea, Sea drove an Army ambulance and served as the only pharmacy technician for a station that served more than 1,800 soldiers.
In her off-hours, she served as a translator for doctors and helped care for injured soldiers. Those efforts earned her two Army Achievement Medals “for exceptionally meritorious service.”
The ACLU’s complaint includes notes on the many commendations Sea received, including a note from a former platoon sergeant who wrote that she “volunteers for deployments, willing to die for a country she loves…I would trust her with my life and (she) deserves citizenship more than most.”
Sea is seeking attorney’s fees and a declaratory judgment that defendants violated immigration laws by not issuing a decision in a timely manner.
She wants a federal court to order officials to hold a naturalization interview within 10 days of the filing and issue a decision within 20 days.
Sea is currently stationed at Fort Sam Houston in Texas.