In 1965, thousands of Cubans fled the communist regime in Cuba. Among them was the Hernandez family. Mario Hernandez was 9 years old at the time. Like most of the Cuban refugees at the time, Mario was given legal status to stay in the US and a Social Security Number, but not citizenship. When his family arrived, they were granted parole, allowing them to stay in the country. After a year without any criminal charges, they become US residents. After five more years without committing any crimes, they can file for citizenship, but neither Mario nor his parents filed the necessary paperwork. Chances are Mario, being a youth had no idea that such paperwork needed to be filed.
In 1975, Mario enlisted in the United States Army, serving three years and fighting in Vietnam. Immigration policies state that if someone serves in the US military during a time of fighting and strife that they are moved up in status to become a US citizen. When Mario took the oath to defend the United States and the US Constitution, he understood it to mean that he was a US citizen.
Over the years, Mario has voted in every election as any good citizen should. He also worked for the Federal Bureau of Prisons as a federal prison guard for 22 years. He guarded notorious criminals like Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols, the Oklahoma City bombers. This job requires that he be a US citizen and supposedly they ran periodic background checks on him and other guards.
Mario worked his way up in the Federal Bureau of Prisons to being a supervisor. He oversaw the day-to-day operations including the oversight of detainees, prisoners and terrorists. His desk at his house in Florida is filled with commendations for his excellent service.
Retired at 58 years of age, Mario planned to take his wife Bonita on a Caribbean cruise. While working through the cruise line’s website, Mario found out that he needed a US passport. In the process of applying for his passport, Mario found out that he was not a US citizen according to ICE.
The news hit Mario very hard as he has always thought of himself as a proud and patriotic American. I saw an interview with him on the national news and he said it literally tore his heart out. In another interview, he said:
“I thought I was a citizen — I’ve always been proud of being a citizen. This has really messed with my head.”
“It’s like I’m living a bad dream. This cannot be real; I’ve been living here 49 years. This is the only country I’ve ever known.”
Now he is worried that he could be facing prison time because he claimed to be a US citizen when he voted and when he held a federal job that required citizenship status. Mario contacted Elizabeth Ricci, an immigration attorney in Miami, who filled for his citizenship, providing documentation of his military service and federal employment, but Immigration turned him down.
“I think they are gravely embarrassed, and are trying to shift the burden on him now to make him look like a criminal.”
Elizabeth Pines, another immigration attorney says that she has seen a handful of cases similar to Mario’s. She commented about his situation, saying:
“It goes to show you how broken the system is for a federal and a state agency to have not even checked his background — his criminal background, yes, but not his immigration background.”
Mario recently received a second letter from Immigration stating that his case would be reopened. They asked for more information including why he claimed to be a US citizen and why he registered and voted. A meeting has been set up for Mario, his attorney and a representative of Immigration.
This clearly demonstrates some of the problems that exist with our immigration and why so many people, including myself believe that it needs to be overhauled and improved, but without a pathway for amnesty. In Mario’s case, he was part of the wave of Cuban refugees that came to the US at that time. Had he known about the need to file the paperwork for citizenship at age 15, he would have. Certainly it should have been resolved when he proudly enlisted in the US Army and fought in Vietnam.
Yet Immigration denies him what should be legally due to him at the same time they are releasing illegals with felony convictions back into the US population and are now pushing to give them amnesty and citizenship. The system is definitely broken and needs to be fixed, but without amnesty. Everyone needs to be forced to go through the same legal channels to enter and remain in the US and eventually become citizens or they go back home.