Veteran of Gulf War
faces expulsion
to South Korea

Peter Pak's supporters say
Army experiences led him to misdeeds

To his family, Peter Pak is an American hero who fought bravely as an Army Ranger in the first Gulf War.

But to the United States, Pak is not an American at all, but simply a criminal who must be expelled from the country where he has lived since he was 6.

Peter Pak mug Pak, 34, has spent the last three years in prison, serving a 10-year sentence for drug offenses and more than a dozen counts of felony theft, forgery and fraud. His family blames his war experience for leading him into drug abuse and other crimes.

Since Pak is a permanent resident alien who never obtained U.S. citizenship, the government wants him banished to his native South Korea under strict immigration laws enacted after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

"I'm an American, and I still think this is a great country," Pak said in a telephone interview from the Halawa Correctional Facility, just miles from where he grew up in Honolulu. "I put myself in this predicament. I just think it's a little unfair they're not considering giving me another chance. They're not willing to listen to my story."

Earlier this month, an immigration judge granted a government request to have Pak expelled.

Pak's family and community leaders, however, argue that it is unfair for the country he served, risked his life for -- and may have killed for -- to have him removed.

"The thing that separates him from anyone else, clearly, is that he fought for his country," said Pak's attorney, William Harrison. "He put his life on the line for the government, and he should be afforded some privileges."

But Honolulu police say Pak left behind a trail of victims and should face the consequences.

"He's not the first to be deported, and he's not going to be the last," said white-collar crimes Detective Chris Duque.

Pak stole the identities of about 30 people off old receipts and used them to buy between $250,000 and $500,000 worth of goods over the Internet, Duque said.

Despite his crimes, members of Hawaii's Korean-American community are rallying against his expulsion, gathering 800 signatures so far in Honolulu and Maui for government officials to intervene.

Song Kap So, president of the United Korean Association of Hawaii, said Pak should be allowed to serve his time and remain in the only home he has known since childhood.

His family says the bloodshed he witnessed and the chemicals he was exposed to in the Middle East led to mental problems and addiction to crystal methamphetamine, which plunged him into a life of crime.

"He was a very good boy, but after the military, he changed so much and became so strange," his mother, Pong Suk Pak, said through an interpreter.

Pak's troubles began shortly after returning home to Honolulu in 1991 after four years of service as a Ranger in the Army's 82nd Airborne Division. He was honorably discharged with commendations and the rank of sergeant.

Pak said he did suffer from psychological problems, although he did not realize it back then.

"I had trouble sleeping," he said. "I was restless, and I had a hard time concentrating."

Pong Suk Pak, 62, who is a U.S. citizen, said the son she remembers leaving for the Army was a polite, well-liked, ambitious, baby-faced teenager who loved art.

"I was so proud of him," she said.

After the war he was an entirely different person -- erratic, destructive, unresponsive and suicidal. He would carry photos of soldiers who died in the war and military action figures that he claimed were his "friends," she said.

Pak continually refused his family's requests to seek help, she said, and he eventually ran away when they tried to force him to get treatment.

"Peter said he didn't want to live long and didn't want to live in a hospital," his mother said.

Pak also refused to go back to church since he had "killed a lot of people" in the war, she said.

"Although he's never been diagnosed as having post-traumatic stress syndrome, all of the symptoms were present," Harrison said.

Pak pleaded no contest to the crimes and is eligible for parole as early as June 2005, at which time he could be placed in the custody of federal authorities and sent to Korea. The Hawaii parole board could also decide to release him into federal custody early, a common practice that frees up bed space in the state's overcrowded prison system.

Harrison called the government's actions "deplorable."

"He took responsibility for his actions, and he should be able to serve out his sentence to atone for his acts and remain in the country," the lawyer said.

Pak says he feels "a little resentment" toward the U.S. government.

"I know I committed crimes. I know what I did was wrong. I have no gripes about serving the time," Pak said. "But I would like another chance in life, like everyone else gets."

Since the terrorist attacks, green-card holders convicted of certain felonies -- sex crimes, drug offenses or violent acts -- face "removal" from the country.

"If 9/11 never happened, we would probably be in a different situation," Harrison said. "Just because he is not a U.S. citizen, he should not be branded a criminal and kicked out of the country."

The immigration attorney handling the case declined to comment.

Donald Radcliffe, director of the U.S. Bureau of Immigrations and Customs Enforcement in Honolulu, said other veterans convicted of felonies have been removed from the country.

"Men do serve in the military honorably and then get in trouble," he said. "A conviction for drugs is going to be awful hard to overcome."

Pak's mother said when her son joined the military, the United States took care of him. But after the war, she said, "America didn't care."


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