MIAMI (AP) – Immigration authorities said Thursday that they are reviewing the case of a U.S. Army veteran and Cuban native who recently discovered he is not an American citizen.
Mario Hernandez served in Vietnam and worked for the Department of Justice's Bureau of Prisons using a Social Security number he received when he arrived in the country as a child. The 58-year-old Tallahassee man always thought he was a U.S. citizen and repeatedly voted. It was only last fall when he sought a passport to take a cruise with his wife that he discovered the authorities did not list him as a citizen or a permanent resident. Suddenly, he was in limbo and under investigation by the U.S. government.
"I served this country," Hernandez said. "I've always tried to prove I'm a good American citizen. I have always taught my children and grandchildren we need to be good stewards of this country. My parents came for freedom. We owe a lot to this country."
Since the Cuban revolution, those who leave the communist-run island generally get fast-tracked to U.S. residency and citizenship. Hernandez arrived in 1965 with his mother and always assumed she had filed immigration papers.
U.S. Citizens and Immigration Services Spokesman Christopher Bentley said Thursday his agency is reviewing the case and will meet with Hernandez and his attorney, Elizabeth Ricci. Ricci said a meeting was scheduled for next week.
"When an error is discovered, either through the appeals process or by other means, we work diligently to review the case and take steps to correct the error and prevent similar issues from occurring in the future," he said in a statement.
Ricci said Hernandez's years of service in the military and his work guarding criminals, including Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh, should be rewarded not punished. In recent months, however, she said officials have been asking detailed questions about why Hernandez voted, suggesting they might be interested in filing charges related to voter fraud.
"I'm hopeful and optimistic, but it's cautious optimism," she said.