ICE is moving to deport a veteran after Mattis assured that would not happen
WASHINGTON — Immigration and Customs Enforcement appears to have ignored a directive from Defense Secretary Jim Mattis to prevent the deportation of noncitizen troops and veterans, seeking to remove a Chinese immigrant despite laws that allow veterans with honorable service to naturalize, court filings show.
Xilong Zhu, 27, who came from China in 2009 to attend college in the United States, enlisted in the Army and was caught in an immigration dragnet involving a fake university set up by the Department of Homeland Security to catch brokers of fraudulent student visas.
Zhu paid tuition to the University of Northern New Jersey, created by DHS to appear as a real school, long enough to ship to basic training using the legal status gained from a student visa issued to attend that school.
Then ICE found him and asked the Army to release him for alleged visa fraud. He left Fort Benning, Georgia, on Nov. 16, 2016, in handcuffs as an honorably discharged veteran. He was detained for three weeks and released.
Zhu is waiting for a Seattle judge’s ruling on his removal proceedings, which are based on allegations by ICE that he failed to attend classes in violation of his student visa. His attorney says his client is a victim of federal entrapment.
Zhu’s case comes amid Trump administration pressure on immigration judges to speed up deportation proceedings in an apparent move to adjudicate more removals, aligning with President Trump’s stated goals.
But it also comes after Mattis said he would protect certain immigrant recruits who enlist through a program designed to trade fast-tracked citizenship for medical and language skills. Those assurances followed sustained controversy over how the Pentagon has exposed more than a thousand foreign-born recruits to deportation. A background-screening logjam began in late 2016 when fears of insider threats slowed clearances to a glacial pace.
Defense Secretary Jim Mattis takes a question during a White House press briefing in Washington on Feb. 7, 2018. – ANDREW HARRER/BLOOMBERG – Photo Courtesy of Stars And Stripes