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Deported Marine veteran wins lawsuit to gain US citizenship

The American flag flies prominently during the World Patriot Tour performance at Hickam Air Force Base. (U.S. Navy photo by Photographer's Mate 2nd Class Dennis Cantrell)
October 28, 2020

Roman Sabal, a Belize-Born former U.S. Marine Corps sergeant and Army Reserve soldier won his lawsuit for U.S. citizenship on Tuesday, allowing him to complete a citizenship interview that had been on hold for more than a year.

Military Times reported Sabal, 59, had been eligible for U.S. citizenship but had a series of missteps had instead led to his deportation.

Sabal reportedly used a fake identity to enlist in the Marines in the 1980s, while in the U.S. on a tourist visa. Sabal said he had confessed to his deception during the enlistment process while attending boot camp but was told, “Don’t worry about it. You’re a Marine now.”

Sabal reportedly served six years in the Marines and several more after that in the Army Reserve. In 1995, Sabal applied for U.S. citizenship. He also had two children with a U.S. citizen.

In 2008, Sabal returned to Belize for diabetes treatment.  He reportedly returned to the U.S. in 2016, but his return triggered an immigration case and then a deportation order.

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Sabal made an appointment for a citizenship interview in 2019 but was turned at the U.S. border in California in July of 2019 by Border Patrol agents.

“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, a member of  Sabal’s legal team, said in the release provided to Military Times. “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.”

After winning his case, Helen Boyer, another attorney for Sabal, said, “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. 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.”

Sabal’s case had attracted the attention of Army veteran Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-IL). Duckworth has since proposed the Strengthening Citizenship Services for Veterans Act, which would require Customs and Border Protection agents to grant veterans the ability to attend their citizenship proceedings in the U.S. regardless of an existing deportation order.

In a statement Tuesday, Duckworth celebrated the outcome of Sabal’s case.

“Roman Sabal was willing to put on the uniform to protect our nation and what happened to him was a disgrace. While he never should have been deported in the first place, much less denied entry to complete his naturalization process by the Trump Administration, I’m so proud to finally be able to call him a fellow American.”