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We Build Alaska

Google Maps mix-up on Fort Wainwright preventing Chinese data engineer from getting job at Google

On December 23, 2020, Jane Doe (her name is being withheld in this article because she may be forced to return to China), her boyfriend, and four friends flew from Seattle to Fairbanks for a holiday trip. They came to Alaska in December for the same reason as many tourists: to see the northern lights and ride on a dog sled. They had booked a dog sled ride with a tourism company and were looking forward to a day of fun in the snow. The booking instructed them to meet at the Holiday Inn Express & Suites on Merhar Drive, where they would be picked up by the dog sled company.

The group of six had a rental car, but the driver inadvertently chose the Holiday Inn Express on Fort Wainwright in Google Maps, rather than the Holiday Inn Express on Merhar Drive (which has since been renamed Hyatt Place Fairbanks). Jane Doe and her boyfriend were passengers.

Dog sled booking

The driver did not know to stop at the gate to Fort Wainwright, and the vehicle was not stopped by gate guards. According to a police report, the soldiers at Badger Gate informed dispatch of a “gate runner” and put out an alert.

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Oxford

The group arrived at the Holiday Inn Express on Fort Wainwright, and eventually realized their mistake after calling the tour company. They entered directions for the correct Holiday Inn Express in Google Maps but were stopped at Trainor Gate when trying to leave the base. All six tourists, including Jane Doe, were arrested and charged with violation of security regulations. Not long after the charges were filed, the United States Attorney dismissed five of the six cases without prejudice. The driver’s case was later dismissed as well. However, four days after the charges were dismissed for the five passengers, their visas were revoked by the government. If any of them were to leave the country now, they would need to obtain a new visa before reentering the United States.

A spokesperson for Fort Wainwright provided the following comment when asked how someone could drive on the base without being stopped:

Access to Fort Wainwright is strictly controlled through a number of physical security measures, and we cannot release information on security procedures or incidents. For questions about legal cases and charges, you will need to contact the Special Assistant to the US Attorney, Captain Charles Eiser.

Oddly enough, as shown above, Captain Charles Eiser signed the motion to dismiss the charges on January 15, 2021.

The dog sledding never happened, but the charges ended up causing Jane Doe significant problems with the United States government. At the time, she was a student at the University of Chicago working on a masters degree in data science. She had previously obtained a masters degree in electrical engineering from Washington University in St. Louis. She finished her masters at the University of Chicago in August 2021 and applied for employment authorization with the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).

When foreign students graduate from an American university, they can apply for a one-year work authorization with USCIS. According to immigration attorney Margaret Stock, “Approval is routine and ordinarily takes a few months.” But due to the arrest and charges, which were dismissed, Jane Doe has still not received a response almost six months after applying.

All six of the Chinese tourists in the group had studied in the United States and some were working. Three of the six obtained degrees from Rice, one from the University of Washington, and one from the University of Pennsylvania, according to Jane Doe’s boyfriend, Zheyu Ding. Zheyu Ding and the driver work at Oracle, one works at Microsoft, and another is a teacher, according to Ding. Jane Doe knew the work authorization was likely going to be an issue because two of the six in the group had applied for work authorizations in April 2021 and had the same issue.

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Blueprint

In October 2021, Jane Doe applied for and was offered a job in cloud data analytics at Google. She describes working at Google as her dream job. But because USCIS has still not processed her work authorization, she has not been able to start working. If she is not able to start work by March, she will be forced to leave the country.

On January 7, 2022, Jane Doe wrote to the Department of Homeland Security inquiring about why her work authorization was taking so long. USCIS is an agency of the Department of Homeland Security. In the letter she states, “I truly desire to join Google and put my talents to work in the United States. However, as a STEM student in F1 status, I will have to leave the United States if I cannot get my EAD approved timely.” Acting Senior Director of FOIA Operations and Management Jimmy Wolfrey responded by saying her inquiry would be transferred to USCIS, the same agency that has not responded to her work authorization request in almost six months.

Jane Doe also contacted Congressman Adam Smith (D – Washington) about the matter. Smith, who has served in Congress for the last 25 years, represents Washington’s 9th congressional district and chairs the House Armed Services Committee. Smith was given a non-answer by USCIS, which he conveyed to Jane Doe.

The Landmine reached out to Margaret Stock, a retired Army lieutenant colonel who has been practicing immigration law for almost three decades, to seek context about this case. Stock, who specializes in military immigration issues, said that she has occasionally been asked to sort out immigration problems for misdirected visitors in Alaska. Stock told the Landmine, “I understand from talking to other Chinese tourists visiting Alaska that this was not an isolated incident. Google Maps has been regularly directing Chinese visitors to Alaska onto military bases by accident, typically when they are using the app to get to a hotel or restaurant. The visitors then get accused of ‘national security’ violations and have problems with their visas and other immigration benefits. I suggest that the State of Alaska, which has been heavily marketing to Chinese visitors, should be warning them about this unusual Alaska danger.”

Jane Doe has been frustrated by this ordeal but is still hopeful the government will grant her a work authorization. “I came to the United States and paid for my education. It is my dream to work at Google. I truly hope the government will grant me my work authorization so I can start my job at Google and remain with my boyfriend,” she said.

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Nunya Bidness
6 months ago

Well, if she wants to work at Google, she can blame them for not geofencing this military base as they should have. Maybe they can help her?

It was her driver’s mistake, and it was also Google’s. It certainly wasn’t Alaska’s, and the state has no duty to attempt to correct errors on maps made by private entities.

Marlin Savage
6 months ago

There are plenty of citizen graduates that can fill the job. H1B visas, over the years, have deprived millions of citizen college graduates a good paying job. The billionaire tech company owners hire H1B employees cheaply by offering them and their families the opportunity of citizenship while depriving citizens and legal immigrants employment.

BBs Mom
6 months ago
Reply to  Marlin Savage

I know this is a Fox News and Republican talking point, but could you provide some actual data supporting this assertion?

Martin
6 months ago
Reply to  Marlin Savage

No, there are NOT ‘plenty of citizen graduates’ in those fields.

Fairbanks
6 months ago
Reply to  Marlin Savage

U R wrong

Dave Donley
6 months ago

What do you think would happen to a US citizen who did this in China?

Maureen Suttman
6 months ago
Reply to  Dave Donley

The Us would intervene on her and justice’s behalf

Ben
6 months ago
Reply to  Dave Donley

I believe no matter where this event happens, military police should give them a chance to explain the situation instead of charging the ticket directly and trying to avoid to take responsibility. This event also happened during Christmas Holiday… Sad to see that happens.

AK Chris
6 months ago
Reply to  Ben

they did. Let’s just say it fit the bill of very suspicious. They were not detained which is questionable. You better believe if we did the same in China we would be detained and thoroughly questioned.

Fairbanks
6 months ago
Reply to  Dave Donley

Have you seen the “gate” at fort wainwright?

Not buying it
6 months ago

The amount of signs around the installation should speak more to any driver about where they’re going than Google. Should you drive into a tornado or a lake because Google told you to even though it’s right in front of you? This is not even a “partisan” issue, it’s just reality.

R K
6 months ago

That kind of sucks. Welcome to America. Unfortunately, these kinds of issues happen to Americans often. You happened to be caught in a kerflufle, yadda yadda, now they won’t hire you. Google especially likes to nit-pick. It is one of the reasons they use to justify hiring foreigners. So, and so has a black mark on their background check, ope’ nope we can’t find Americans to do the job, lets hire an H1B. Let that be a lesson to all yea would be Americans, don’t take vacations and don’t get caught where you’re not supposed to be -OR- ELSE!

6 months ago

I’m sorry however the address of the hotel you book is listed

Jake from State Farm
6 months ago

Maybe next time try not to drive onto a military installation.

Fairbanks
6 months ago

It’s not closed off. It’s the end of airport way which is a major road. There’s a person in a booth but nothing stopping people from entering. Really odd actually.

ANON-APACHE
6 months ago
Reply to  Fairbanks

So..

The gate on airport way is manned by many people, not just one… It is two lanes, two booths with an open bay for vehicle inspections as well as a placed vehicle stopping mechanism that would be triggered upon running the gate…

Between the signs, the booths, the device built into the road, etc, it is not hard to see that you didn’t just get past all of that without knowing what you were doing…

This story is bullshit. Case and point, if you’re on FT Wainwright without being authorized you deserve what you get.

Clickbait these days…

Caroline
6 months ago
Reply to  ANON-APACHE

Bullshit story and responsible military guardians? Are you kidding? They deserve it?  I’ve heard of at least 3 same accidents last year at different times. No one stopped them, and they were charged the same big title ticket – Penalty Violation & Security Regulations & Orders! This is not a common accident. There are several gates, not the gate you just mentioned. Shouldn’t the military base reflect on the signs they set is not clear and gate guardians they put don’t take the responsibility? Military base just wanted to avoid responsibility, charged people the tickets, and let the judge decide.… Read more »

Ben
6 months ago

Since driver was the dog-sled contact and drove to the wrong place, it’s obvious driver’s fault but passengers also suffered from it and took the responsibility. They couldn’t do anything… I think military police should probably only sent the charge to driver instead of all of them. They should have the right to get the work authorization.

Fairbanks
6 months ago

That is messed up. Also it is easy to drive through that entrance without stopping. It’s not like JBER.

Anon
6 months ago

Many years back, I was riding in a car when the driver was aware of a shortcut. Through a military facility. The driver misinterpreted the wave of the guard as “go ahead”, and I interpreted it as “stop.” I was right.
My point: these gates can be very confusing, especially if you are not expecting a gate.

AK Chris
6 months ago

Yeah. No. This occasionally happens near the Christmas time with only chinese nationals. Coincidence? There are multiple signs and this car drove through the obvious checkpoint. If she is directionally challenged or cannot read multiple warning signs maybe Google isn’t the right place for her. I live here and there is no dog mushing on the other side of FWA at that time of the night.

Jackson
6 months ago

The author of this article should be ashamed. Taking up the case of these gate crashers without realizing who they are or what they’ve done. If a carload of military aged adults wound up on a sensitive military base in China they would still be in jail. The worst happening to these guys is they can’t stay in America beyond their generous visas.

Last edited 6 months ago by Jackson