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Published: Tuesday, 8/16/2005

An American nightmare

LIKE generations of hard-working immigrants before them, Dae and Young Jung sought the unlimited opportunity that is supposed to accrue to a new life in America - Toledo, Ohio, U.S.A.

What the couple got instead was unnecessarily harsh treatment at the hands of an obdurate government bureaucracy and, ultimately, deportation to their native South Korea.

That the Jungs felt compelled to leave behind their 15-year-old son, a U.S. citizen because he was born here, makes their story doubly sad.

Many Toledoans no doubt are shaking their heads in puzzlement at what it was the Jungs did to deserve the back of the hand from the federal Department of Homeland Security. The early-morning raid on their apartment in February, their arrest, and the jailing of Mrs. Jung for six long months look more like tactics against terrorists than illegal aliens.

But Mr. and Mrs. Jung and their son, Andrew, a top student at Emmanuel Baptist Christian School, were no threat to anyone. They never tried to hide. They just got on with their simple life in Toledo as church-going, taxpaying citizens.

The couple failed to attend a 1996 hearing that led to a deportation order against them, and that clearly put them in technical violation of immigration laws. Indeed, they did bear some responsibility for their predicament, but it was clear one hand of government didn't know what the other hand was doing.

The Immigration and Naturalization Service declared the Jungs illegal aliens in 1995 after Mr. Jung, a University of Toledo graduate, dropped plans to continue his education at a Michigan school. Five years later, the Department of Labor issued a work permit so he could take a job as a sushi chef at Kotobuki, a Toledo restaurant.

That all took place before 9/11, which stoked fears of "foreigners" in our midst, but even the tightening of immigration regulations that followed the terrorist attacks is no excuse for the government's unyielding line in this case.

Especially troubling was the vengeful handling of Mrs. Jung by Homeland Security officials. While her husband was allowed to remain free to take care of Andrew, she was jailed in isolation from her family at a succession of detention facilities as far away as Michigan's Upper Peninsula. Not allowing the Jungs' friends from Toledo to say farewell to the couple before their flight out of Detroit Metro Airport was a mean-spirited, unnecessary slap.

While they were being unceremoniously expelled from America, we wonder how many illegal aliens sneaked across the border into the U.S. from Mexico.

The Jungs now are back in South Korea, and their son is living with friends here in Toledo. Their decision to leave him behind in the land of his birth no doubt was a heart-rending one, but understandable for those not native to the United States.

Despite their harsh treatment at the hands of an officious and insensitive government, the Jungs still believe that Andrew has a brighter future in America than in South Korea.

Let's hope they're right.



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