TACOMA, Wash. (Nate Hanson, KGW) – An Iraq War veteran who was held at a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement detention facility in Tacoma for eight months has been released.
Chong Hwan Kim was released Thursday after being held at the detention center since April.
Kim was taken into custody on April 5, when he met with immigration officers at an ICE office in Southwest Portland for what he believed was a routine check-in. After several hours, it was clear that this was no routine check-in. He was immediately taken to Tacoma, where he faced the possibility of being deported to South Korea.
Kim was legally admitted to the U.S. on April 11, 1981, according to immigration records. He was 5 years old. He came to the U.S. with his parents and grew up in Northeast Portland’s Parkrose neighborhood. Kim said his immigration status was never an issue as he had a Green Card.
He enlisted in the Oregon Army National Guard in 2005. Four years later, he was deployed to Iraq and spent 10 months in the war-torn country. During one mission, Kim reportedly stopped the entire squad in order to help an Iraqi National whose vehicle was on fire. Kim’s team leader in Iraq recounted the rescue in a sworn letter submitted to an immigration judge. In 2010, Kim received a general discharge from the military - one step below honorable discharge.
Court documents show the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, which overlooks ICE, cited two convictions for why they believed Kim should be deported. One conviction was for attempted arson in 2016, the other for burglary in 2013. Both came during a time when Kim was addicted to methamphetamine.
The arson conviction came after Kim pleaded guilty to felony charges, which would result in mandatory deportation. However, Kim’s arson conviction was set aside by the Multnomah County Circuit Court on Dec. 1 on the basis that Kim was not aware that a guilty felony plea would result in mandatory deportation, according to Kim's lawyer.
After his felony arson conviction was set aside, Kim pleaded guilty to misdemeanor charges and was sentenced to two years’ probation. Kim's attorney argued that since Kim could no longer be deported for his felony crime, he should be released.
Kim plans to return to Portland and live with his father.
On Friday, ICE put out a statement about Kim's release.
"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 had a prior felony conviction in Multnomah County for attempt to commit arson in the first degree, among other charges. Yesterday, the agency released Mr. Kim on an order of recognizance after the Circuit Court of Multnomah County dismissed his underlying criminal conviction. It will be up to the Board of Immigration Appeals to determine the outcome of his immigration case.”