Rohan Coombs, 45, a Marine Cpl during the Persian Gulf War, tears up while talking about the death of his wife, who passed away in her sleep while he was at work. Coombs said he’d given up drugs and alcohol when he met her. He turned back to his old vices when she died. He is currently fighting his deportation to Jamaica while in immigration detention in El Centro.
By CINDY CARCAMO
THE ORANGE COUNTY REGISTER
But only one now faces deportation.
Six months before he was discharged, James Davis did some time for assault after he beat up a gang member he said was looking at him in a threatening way at an Irvine club. He shot at the man as he ran out.
He knew he’d face incarceration.
“If I wasn’t a citizen, I would have been deported … definitely,” said Davis, who was born in this country
That’s what happened to Coombs, who came to the United States legally from Jamaica at the age of 13.
Coombs was honorably discharged in 1991 after five years of service, but reenlisted. He said he turned to pot because he was having a tough time adjusting to life without war even while he was still in the service. He received a dishonorable discharge in 1993 after he was court marshaled for possession for sale of cocaine and pot.
His wife died in 2000 and he returned to drugs.
Officials arrested Coombs in 2006, 2007 and 2008 in Orange County for either possession for use or sale of marijuana, which ultimately led to his impending deportation.
Davis said his friend deserves to stay in the U.S., calling him a leader in the Marines.
“He’s like a gentle giant who speaks right to you and looks at your eyes and talks to you with passion,” Davis said. “You know this is a good person when you talk to him.”
While Davis has moved on from his troubles and opened up his own barber shop in Irvine, Coombs is fighting his removal from immigration detention in El Centro. Coombs’ acting attorney, Robert Barton, said he is appealing the deportation order to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, arguing among other things that Coombs received bad legal advice about the ramifications of pleading out to possession for sale of marijuana.
Immigration and Customs Enforcement spokeswoman Lauren Mac said the agency has reviewed Coombs’ case, and did not exercise prosecutorial discretion because of his multiple drug trafficking convictions – at least one of which resulted in his dishonorable discharge.
“Based on Mr. Coombs’ criminal convictions, he was subject to mandatory detention and to removal as an aggravated felon,” Mac said. “An immigration judge ordered Mr. Coombs removed from the United States based on his criminal convictions.”
Coombs said he knows he did wrong but said he’s already served time in jail and shouldn’t be penalized with deportation.
“Why am I going through this? I’m a citizen,” he recalled telling an ICE agent in 2008 when he was first told he could be deported.
Coombs said he put in his paperwork for U.S. citizenship soon after he enlisted in the Marines in 1987 but his paperwork was sent to his mother’s home and never got to him because he was overseas. He said he was going to follow through but his commander told him something that changed his mind.
“You are property of the United States Government, that makes you a citizen,” Coombs said he was told.
Marine Corps officials said they make it clear to non-citizen service men and women that they do not receive automatic citizenship upon enlisting in the Marines.
Coombs said he was never treated any differently than a U.S. citizen due to his military service.
“Everywhere I went, they never questioned my citizenship,” he said.