Press Releases

June 07, 2021

Deported U.S. Marine Corps Veteran Fights for Access to Citizenship Interview

For Immediate Release: June 7, 2021

Media Contacts: Rekha Radhakrishnan, 832-628-2312 rradhakrishnan@publiccounsel.org;

Jocelyn De Carvalho, 212-530-5509 jdecarvalho@milbank.com

 

DEPORTED U.S. MARINE CORPS VETERAN FIGHTS FOR ACCESS TO CITIZENSHIP INTERVIEW

California veteran eligible for citizenship forced to take drastic steps to compel federal government to complete naturalization process

LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA – June 7, 2021 – Over two years after initiating his naturalization application, Public Counsel and Milbank LLP filed a mandamus lawsuit against the federal government on behalf of Hector Ocegueda-Rivera, a deported U.S. Marine Corps veteran who has been unable to attend his citizenship interview in Los Angeles because the government won’t allow him to enter the country.

“It’s simple: Cpl. Hector Ocegueda-Rivera is entitled to citizenship,” said Helen Boyer, staff attorney at Public Counsel. “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 DHS invites deported veterans for citizenship interviews and the other branches block deported veterans from attending those interviews. It doesn’t make sense.”

Because Ocegueda-Rivera was an active-duty Marine who served honorably during a designated period of hostilities, he is eligible to become a naturalized U.S. citizen under the Immigration and Nationality Act. He served in the United States Marines Corps from 1987 until 1991 and in the Marine Corps Reserves from 1991 through 1995, when he was honorably discharged.  During his service, Mr. Ocegueda-Rivera was promoted to the rank of Corporal, and the military awarded him the National Defense Service Medal, the Good Conduct Medal, the Sea Service Deployment Medal, and the Rifle Expert Badge. 

Hector Ocegueda-Rivera came to the U.S as a 9-year-old with his family, graduating from Gahr High School and enrolling in the U.S. Marine Corps immediately thereafter. While serving in the Marines, he married his high school sweetheart, a U.S. citizen, and they had two daughters.  Mr. Ocegueda-Rivera is now divorced, but he retains many family connections in the United States, including his daugthers and their children.   

“I miss my family so much. I have missed so many important life events, like my brother’s funeral and watching my grandchildren grow up,” Ocegueda-Rivera said. “All I want is to be reunited with my family in the country I call home.”

Unfortunately, Ocegueda-Rivera’s case isn’t unusual. Just one year ago, Public Counsel was forced to file a lawsuit on behalf of another deported veteran, Sgt. Roman Sabal, when the government refused to allow him to complete his naturalization interview. Following the lawsuit, Sabal’s naturalization interview was scheduled at a port of entry and he became a U.S. citizen that same day. Like Sabal before him, Ocegueda-Rivera is caught in a government-created bureaucratic bind:  he is eligible to become a U.S. citizen but is being blocked by the federal government from completing the final step in the process to secure his citizenship.

While the number of deported veterans is not officially tracked, reports like Discharged, then Discarded from the ACLU share the common experiences many veterans have faced when they have been deported—having suffered trauma from their own experiences in battle and from being forced out of the only home they have ever known, they are often forced to leave behind a family to function without them.

“It should not take a federal lawsuit to force the government to adjudicate the citizen applications of those who have served this country,” said Milbank partner Mark Shinderman. “Veterans deserve better. We hope that Hector will be able to return home to his family as a U.S. citizen.”

 

Read the complaint HERE.

  

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