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.
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.
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.
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.