For more than two years, a 53-year-old decorated Marine Corps veteran deported to Mexico in 2008 for a drunken driving conviction has been caught up in a governmental Catch-22 as he struggles to become a U.S. citizen.

Twice in 2020, U.S. Customs and Immigration Service officials scheduled Hector Ocegueda-Rivera for required naturalization interviews in Los Angeles. In both instances, Department of Homeland Security denied him entry into the U.S., including once when Border Patrol agents turned him away at the San Ysidro Port of Entry.

“At first, the officers didn’t want to help me,” Ocegueda-Rivera said, describing the border incident. “When I told them that I had an appointment in the U.S., they just looked at me. I told one of the officers that I was in the Marine Corps. I gave him my military ID and that’s when he changed his attitude. He said ‘OK, let me go talk to my supervisor and see if there’s anything we can do.’ But then he came back and said they couldn’t help me.”

Lawsuit demands interview

Those encounters prompted Ocegueda-Rivera’s lawyers on Monday to file a lawsuit against the government, arguing that if he isn’t allowed to come to Los Angeles for an interview, then immigration officers must instead come to him at the border.

Hector Ocegueda-Rivera, a decorated Marine veteran, is suing the federal government for permission to receive a citizenship interview on U.S. soil. (Photo contributed by Alma Ocegueda}

“Cpl. Hector Ocegueda-Rivera is entitled to citizenship,” said Helen Boyer, one of his attorneys. “But the U.S. government has created a bureaucratic mess, which makes it impossible for Hector and other deported veterans to complete the citizenship process. One branch of the Department of Homeland Security invites deported veterans for citizenship interviews and the other branches block deported veterans from attending those interviews. It doesn’t make sense.”

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Neither Ocegueda-Rivera’s drunken driving conviction nor his deportation disqualifies him from becoming a U.S. citizen, Boyer said. Federal law permits citizenship for all eligible military veterans who have served honorably during designated periods of hostilities provided they meet certain requirements, including undergoing a naturalization interview.

The lawsuit follows a policy guidance issued two weeks ago by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services that says veterans residing abroad may seek to be admitted or paroled into the United States for the purpose of attending a naturalization interview and oath ceremony.

Ocegueda-Rivera has requested parole but has not received a response from the government, Boyer said.

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services officials declined to comment on the lawsuit.

At least one other deported veteran in the same predicament as Ocegueda-Rivera has been more fortunate with help from Boyer’s nonprofit law firm Public Counsel.

Roman Sabal of Belize, who joined the Marines with false documents in 1987 and then was deported in 2008, also was denied admittance into the U.S. at the San Ysidro Port of Entry to attend a naturalization interview. Public Counsel sued the government in 2019 and Sabal eventually was interviewed at the border in El Paso, where he became a U.S. citizen.

A veteran’s odyssey

Ocegueda-Rivera’s …read more

Source:: Los Angeles Daily News


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