PORTLAND, Ore. -- As millions prepare to celebrate America’s Independence Day, local veterans are sounding the alarm about one of their own.
Friends of Chong Hwan Kim say the 42-year-old Iraq War veteran was picked up by ICE authorities in early April and has been held in a federal detention center in Tacoma ever since.
Born in South Korea, they say Kim and his parents came to the United States legally when he was 5 years old.
He grew up in the Portland area. Years ago, they say he joined the Army National Guard.
“He deserves better,” said Perry Gastineau, who served alongside Kim in Iraq.
Gastineau said both men, like many there, saw horrific things. He said Kim suffered from PTSD when he came home and racked up a criminal record, including a felony count of attempted arson. That charge, his most recent, came in early 2016.
Since then, Gastineau said Kim had done his best to turn his life around.
“He had kind of worked around it to be on a better path, or so I thought. So, I mean, it's really sad to see something from the past come up and bite him when he was trying to do better,” he said.
On Friday, Rose M. Riley from the Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Seattle Field Office would not confirm details about Kim’s immigration status, but sent the following statement about his case.
"Chong Hwan Kim is a South Korean national who was taken into custody by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) April 5 after it was determined he has a prior felony conviction in Multnomah County for attempt to commit arson in the first degree, among other charges. Mr. Kim remains in ICE detention at this time while his immigration case undergoes review by the Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR), the Department of Justice agency which administers the nation's immigration courts."
U.S. Navy veteran Jordan Meyers, who met Kim through a local PTSD support group, said the logic doesn’t hold.
“If you're willing to sacrifice your life potentially, if you're willing to write that blank check, payable up to and including your life to the United States of America, I feel like you've earned the right to live in the United States of America,” he said.
Meyers and other friends set up a GoFundMe account to help pay for Kim’s legal fees.