Belize-born Marine Corps veteran Roman Sabal, 59, was on his way to become a United States citizen when a deportation order kept him out of the country.
According to the Military Times, Sabal initially came to the U.S. on a tourist visa in the 1980s. He enlisted in the Marine Corps under a fake name and served for six years, then several more after that in the Army Reserve.
Sabal told his superiors in boot camp that he had faked his identity. They replied, “Don’t worry about it. You’re a Marine now,” he told the San Diego Union-Tribune.
After leaving the military, he applied for citizenship in 1995. A few years after that, he became a father. Sabal had two children with an American citizen, and because he was an active-duty marine who served honorably during a designated period of hostilities, he was eligible to become a naturalized U.S. citizen under the Immigration and Nationality Act.
Sabal then traveled back to Belize to see his mother for help with diabetes. His return triggered an immigration court case, unbeknownst to Sabal. The veteran never knew about the immigration hearing, but the judge ruled anyway. While Sabal was ordered deported over the matter, he continued to live his life in the U.S.
It wasn’t until 2008 that Sabal left the country again. When he tried to return in 2016, he was stopped at the California border. This time, agents had the deportation in hand, and would not be letting the Marine veteran back in.
While stuck in Belize, Sabal subsequently missed the naturalization interviews that would have expedited his citizenship.
It took a team of lawyers several more years to untangle the deflections of the State Department and the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency, but Sabal has since been granted full citizenship, and will be coming home to the U.S. once more.
“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,” attorney, Helen Boyer, said in a release published after the federal case was decided. “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.”
“While the law provides a clear path to citizenship, the government has failed in its duty to make that path accessible to deported veterans,” wrote Talia Inlender, another lawyer on Sabal’s team. “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.”
Army veteran Sen. Tammy Duckworth has proposed a bill that would make it easier for veterans like Sabal to gain American citizenship.
The Strengthening Citizenship Services for Veterans Act, would require Customs and Border Patrol to grant veterans parole to attend their citizenship proceedings in the U.S., regardless of a deportation order. It has yet to be considered by the Senate Judiciary Committee, Military Times reports.
“Roman Sabal was willing to put on the uniform to protect our nation and what happened to him was a disgrace,” Duckworth said. “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.”
Matthew Russell is a West Michigan native and with a background in journalism, data analysis, cartography and design thinking. He likes to learn new things and solve old problems whenever possible, and enjoys bicycling, going to the dog park, spending time with his daughter, and coffee.