In February, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis promised that undocumented immigrants who served in the military and were honorably discharged would not be deported. “We would always stand by one of our people,” Mattis said at the time.
(Not) shockingly, it looks like the Trump administration isn’t following through on that promise. On Wednesday, the Washington Post reported that the Department of Homeland Security is working to deport noncitizen veterans and active members of the military, going so far as to create a fake university to use as an immigration dragnet.
Like many undocumented immigrants, Xilong Zhu came to the U.S. with the goal of attending college after serving in the military, and securing his legal status via a student visa in the process. Zhu came to the U.S. from China in 2009, graduated from Beloit College in Wisconsin in 2013, and completed basic training in 2016. Shortly thereafter, Zhu found himself in Immigration and Customs Enforcement custody—in part because the federal government allegedly set him up.
From the Washington Post (emphasis mine):
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, Ga., on Nov. 16, 2016, in handcuffs as an honorably discharged veteran. He was detained for three weeks and released.
Zhu is waiting to hear a judge in Seattle rule in his removal proceedings. His attorney says his client is a victim of federal entrapment.
The fake university created by DHS, called the University of Northern New Jersey, was supposedly created to catch brokers of visa fraud. Instead, DHS allegedly used the fake university to lure unsuspecting prospective students like Zhu, then accuse them of visa fraud for paying tuition to the university. This story gives a clear picture of the Kafkaesque nightmare that DHS and ICE put people like Zhu through.
In court documents obtained by the Post, ICE claimed that Zhu wasn’t one of the people Mattis was referring to when he said immigrant veterans would be protected from deportation, which seems dubious:
Jordan L. Jones, an ICE assistant chief counsel, said in a Seattle federal immigration court filing on March 29 that Mattis was actually referring only to recruits who came to the country illegally as children and enlisted later through DACA as those who are protected.
Zhu is removable “despite his honorable discharge,” Jones wrote, adding the judge, John F. Walsh, cannot dismiss proceedings.
[Zhu’s lawyer Margaret] Stock said Mattis could not have meant only DACA recipients because they overwhelmingly naturalize in the military and are only a small portion of foreign recruits who enlist.
I have reached out to ICE for comment and will update if I hear back.
Despite Mattis’ lip service, the Trump administration has no interest in protecting undocumented veterans. Granting protections to any subset of immigrants would impede the administration’s explicit goal of expelling every single undocumented immigrant from the United States, no matter whether they pose an actual threat to “homeland security” or not. “Thank you for your service,” DHS is telling veterans like Zhu, before booting them from the country they’ve worked years to live in legally.
Update, 1:28 PM: ICE sent back this response:
Xilong Zhu, a citizen and national of China, was admitted to the U.S. as an F-1 nonimmigrant student in August 2013, but failed to maintain or comply with the conditions of his nonimmigrant status. As a result, on Nov. 10, 2016, ICE issued him a notice to appear in accordance with the Immigration and Nationality Act. His immigration proceedings are ongoing.