Portland vet who was facing S. Korea deportation released

Chong Hwan Kim served 5 years in the Iraq War

Eileen Park and KOIN 6 News Staff - TACOMA, Wash. (KOIN) -- An Iraq War veteran with a criminal record, who grew up in Portland, was released from an ICE facility in Tacoma on Thursday after facing possible deportation to South Korea.

Chong Hwan Kim served 5 years in the Army as an E4 specialist rifleman before receiving a general discharge under honorable conditions. Then, when he returned, his lawyer said he became addicted to meth, sparking a criminal trajectory. He eventually landed in ICE detainment before he was released.

"I'm ecstatic, I'm over the moon. I mean, words can't express just how grateful I am to be out here," Kim told KOIN 6 News after his release. "Especially when you consider the fact that my situation wasn't looking too great and it took a coordinated effort from all the people involve."

Records obtained by KOIN 6 News show Kim has been arrested on several charges, including a mixture of felonies and misdemeanors, over the last 5 years. In 2016, he was convicted of attempted arson and possession of a destructive device. But those charges were lessened to 4 misdemeanors 2 weeks ago because he wasn't properly informed at the time that they could lead to his deportation.

"After I got back from Iraq I made some very poor decisions, obviously, such as substance abuse," Kim said. "So things just started naturally progressing downhill from there. Then I was unemployed, living on the streets for a while. One thing led to another. I ended up getting into that criminal lifestyle, committed some crimes, got arrested. And that's when this whole process started happening."

The lesser charges meant, according to his lawyer, that he could no longer be deported. They called for his release.

"When someone has plead guilty without knowing the consequences, without fully knowing -- a plea has to be knowing and willing," said Tim Warden-Hertz, the directing attorney for the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project. "So in order for it to be valid, 'I'm going to plead guilty to things. I need to know what I'm pleading guilty to.'"

ICE released this statement on Friday regarding 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."

Back in June, Kim's father said a judge told his son, if he kept getting into trouble with the law, his immigration status could be in jeopardy. His family was worried about what could happen if he was deported back to South Korea where he is unfamiliar with the language, the country and its people.

Navy veteran Jordan Meyers, who belonged to the same disabled veterans with PTSD support group, reached out to KOIN in June after he learned Kim had been detained by ICE.

Meyers said he knew about Kim's criminal record, but said his friend has been working to clean up his act for some time now.

"We don't leave anyone behind," Meyers said. "Chong put his life on the line, he put himself in danger to sacrifice for our country. Regardless of maybe having a few issues here and there, we can stand behind him and help him in his recovery.

"I'm just absolutely shocked that somebody who served our country honorably… [that] there would be any question as to whether they're welcome [here]."

Warden-Hertz said Kim is excited to get into a rehabilitation program and get his life straightened out, something he couldn't do while he was detained by ICE.

"It's invigorating," Kim said. "I look forward to resuming my life, going back to work, going back to my life,going about rebuilding my life, trying to make something better for myself."

  

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