Vietnamese Immigrant Wishes He'd Become a U.S. Citizen Before Cocaine Bust

Born two years before the end of the Vietnam War in Saigon, Dinh Canh Tran lived under dictatorial communist rule until about 1989 when his family relocated to the Philippines in route to live permanently in the United States.

You might guess that living in a country where citizens have no real rights would spur Tran to quickly obtain U.S. citizenship status.

But the Vietnamese immigrant didn't bother to secure his rights, failed to graduate from an American high school, obtained a machinist certificate and, after getting married, fell into regularly using illegal drugs and alcohol.

Nowadays, Tran, 39, wishes he'd taken the simple steps to become a citizen.

In April 2011, U.S. District Court Judge Andrew J. Guilford sentenced Tran to a term of 120 months in federal prison for his admitted role in selling more than 50 kilograms of cocaine in Orange County.

While incarcerated Tran learned the impact of not being a U.S. citizen within the prison system. He is, he complains, ineligible for more comfortable housing and is blocked from participating in certain drug treatment programs that could have resulted in early release.

Tran, who has been in custody since 2007, has a wife and a young daughter he dreams of seeing again in freedom, and so last November he filed an appeal arguing that he should be accepted into a Residential Drug Abuse Program that can win him, he says, release as much as 18 months early.

According to court records, he's also unhappy that Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials put a hold on him for potential deportation after he serves his sentence, a move he calls malicious.

This month, a federal judge ruled that the non-citizen's complaints have no legal remedy.

Upshot: Tran, who is housed in the federal prison at Lompoc, must serve three more years before discovering what action ICE may take against him, if any.

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