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Fullerton’s Sa Responds to Critics on Citizenship Issue

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Responding to recent attacks by some of her critics who questioned whether she is a U.S. citizen, Councilwoman Julie Sa shot back Friday, saying she does not have to prove her citizenship and that such demands are “clearly discriminatory.”

Sa, who had been asked during several council meetings to prove that she is a U.S. citizen, said she was naturalized in 1982. She said she has been targeted by some activists merely because of her race.

“It is a waste of invaluable council time to have to listen to racially motivated and incorrect accusations made against my ethnicity,” Sa, who was born in China and raised in Korea, said in a statement. “No politician in his or her right mind can morally or legally hold public office knowing that he or she is not a U.S. citizen.”

INS officials confirmed Friday that Sa is a U.S. citizen and holds a U.S. passport. Because of privacy laws, the INS is prohibited from providing more specific information unless the citizen consents, Rico Cabrera, an INS spokesman, said.

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During last Tuesday’s council meeting, Fullerton resident Cliff Berning asked when Sa became a naturalized citizen and under what name. He had raised the same questions at a December council meeting.

Berning said he had failed to find records of Sa’s citizenship status and wants her to produce proof.

“This is not racism,” Berning, who ran unsuccessfully in last year’s Brea Olinda Unified School District Board of Trustees election, said at Tuesday’s meeting. “This is good citizenship, responsible citizenship.”

Later, Berning said that he and city activist W. Snow Hume have been investigating Sa’s background because they are trying to determine if she is holding office illegally.

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“Our goal is to pressure that woman into proving she is a citizen,” Berning said.

Sa, who owns and operates a Chinese restaurant in Anaheim, said she immigrated to the United States in 1973 and became a naturalized citizen in Los Angeles in 1982. As part of her naturalization, Sa chose to change her name from Ilhsaing Sa Tung to Julie Tung. A few years later, after divorcing her husband, Robert Tung, she became Julie Sa.

Many residents, including Sa’s colleagues on the council, said they believe the questioning of Sa’s citizenship is racially and politically motivated.

“In my opinion, this appears to be an attempt to embarrass Julie Sa,” Councilwoman Jan M. Flory said. “I also was not born in this country and yet nobody has dared question my right to serve on this council. Ms. Sa wears her ethnicity on her face and, therefore, she does not ‘pass’ as well as I do.”

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Flory, who was born in New Zealand, said at Tuesday’s council meeting that the public questioning of Sa’s citizenship “smacks of racism.” She and Councilman Peter Godfrey asked Berning to submit his requests in writing or ask Sa about her citizenship status and other personal information in private.

Some city officials said they believe Berning and Hume are trying to pressure Sa into resigning from office by humiliating her so they can push for one of their candidates to take over her seat. Both men deny the allegation.

Hume was condemned recently by the council and the Korean American Assn. of Orange County for mocking Sa’s accent at a meeting in November.

Sa said she has the right to finish her term and run for reelection in November.

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Council members have said they will continue to defend Sa when she is unfairly attacked at public meetings.

Sa called the questions about her citizenship and eligibility to serve on the council “absurd and ridiculous.” She said she hopes the questions will end, even though she has no plans to show her critics her naturalization certificate.

“Why should I?” she said. “I am a citizen and I don’t owe anyone any proof.”

Berning said he will continue to ask to see Sa’s citizenship certificate.

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“She doesn’t speak fluent English,” he said. “I just want to know if this lady is a fraud or not.”


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