58-year-old Mario Hernandez has been living in the United States for almost 50 years. Recently, he was shocked to discover that he isn’t a legal U.S. citizen; in fact, he’s not even a legal resident.
Mario voted, passed background checks, served in the army, worked as a supervisor, and then retired. He had no problems serving his country or working for his company. Then one day, he and his wife Bonita planned a trip to the Caribbean to celebrate his retirement. Mario went to acquire a passport. That’s when the trouble began.
Mario came to the U.S. as a Cuban refugee in 1965. He was eligible to become a permanent U.S. resident after one year and a citizen after five years under The Cuban Adjustment Act of 1966.
Mario said he was under the impression that the military had taken care of his naturalization papers when he enlisted and served in Vietnam.
Mario said, “I thought I was a citizen - I’ve always been proud of being a citizen.”
After Mario completed his immigration interview, his application to become a citizen was rejected.
Elizabeth Ricci, an immigration lawyer, has taken Hernandez’s case on for free. Elizabeth said that Mario’s service and honorable discharge from the military after serving in Vietnam, a “designated period of hostility,” made Mario eligible for naturalization under federal law.
Elizabeth filed an appeal, but she worried this might not be the end of Mario’s rough times. The second letter from immigration services said that his case would be reopened, but they needed more information. They asked that he provide a “sworn statement concerning when, where, how and why Hernandez claimed to be a U.S. citizen, including his voting records.”
Elizabeth is worried they might press charges against Mario because he identified himself as a citizen. While he wouldn’t face deportation, this could lead to fines or possibly even a jail sentence.
Elizabeth said, “I think they are gravely embarrassed and are trying to shift the burden on him now to make him look like a criminal.”
Mario worked as a prison guard for 22 years and guarded such criminals as the Oklahoma City Bombers. He can’t believe what he’s going through.
He said, “This cannot be real," Hernandez told the Times, “I’ve been living here 49 years. This is the only country I’ve ever known.”
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H/T: America Now