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Belize-born Marine Corps veteran wins federal lawsuit, earns US citizenship

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Posted: Wednesday, October 28, 2020. 9:49 am CST.

By Aaron Humes: Last year we brought you the story of 59-year-old Marine Corps Sergeant Roman Sabal, a former Belize Defence Force soldier who was fighting the U.S. government to complete his naturalization interview on the path to American citizenship despite being deported. 

It’s all’s well that ends well, as he won his latest battle on Tuesday as reported by the Marine Corps Times. 

“We are thrilled that Roman will finally be able to return home as a U.S. citizen. Despite a decades-long process, Roman never gave up the hope of coming home to his family,” his attorney, Helen Boyer, said in the release. “But it should not take a federal lawsuit to force the government to adjudicate the citizenship applications of those who have served in uniform. Deported veterans deserve better.” 

“While the law provides a clear path to citizenship, the government has failed in its duty to make that path accessible to deported veterans,” Talia Inlender, also on Sabal’s team, said in the release. “By failing to perform basic functions — including background checks, interview scheduling, and timely decision making — the government routinely denies deported veterans their rights under the citizenship laws.” 

Sabal visited the U.S. on a tourist visa in the 1980s and used a fake identity to enlist and serve in the Marine Corps and later the Army Reserve as his superiors looked the other way. 

He first applied for citizenship in 1995, met and had two children with an American citizen, but had to return to Belize in 2008 for natural diabetes treatment. On returning to the U.S. in 2016 it triggered an immigration case, and then a deportation order. He was turned away at the border in 2019 while preparing for an appointment for a citizenship interview in California, prompting a wide outcry.  

Sabal’s case and that of another former Marine, Mexico-born Marco Chavez, who in 2017 returned to the U.S. 15 years after he’d been deported for a criminal conviction, caught the attention of Army veteran and Illinois Senator Tammy Duckworth, who earlier this year proposed the Strengthening Citizenship Services for Veterans Act. 

Under consideration by the Senate Judiciary Committee, the bill would specifically help veterans who served honorably with their naturalization process. It would require Customs and Border Patrol to grant veterans parole to attend their citizenship proceedings in the U.S., regardless of a deportation order. 

The Senator called Sabal’s ordeal “a disgrace” because of his honorable service and commended him as a “fellow American” in a statement.

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