After Forming Deep Roots in U.S., Man Discovers He Isn’t a Citizen

"After living nearly a half century in the United States — marrying and raising a family here, paying taxes and working for decades for the federal government — Mario Hernandez made a discovery recently that rattled him to his core: He is not an American citizen. In fact, he is not even a United States resident.  Nobody had ever told him. Not his mother or his grandparents. Not the United States Army, where he served for three years in the 1970s. Not the election supervisors in four states who tallied his votes in every major election since Jimmy Carter won the White House. Not the two state agencies where he was employed, one in Washington State and the other in Florida. And not the two federal agencies, including the Justice Department, where he spent most of his career as a prison supervisor handling notorious inmates and undergoing thorough background checks every five years. ... After he attended an immigration interview in March, his request for citizenship was denied. It should not have been, said his lawyer, Elizabeth Ricci, from Tallahassee. Mr. Hernandez was entitled to citizenship, she said, because he had served in the Army during a “designated period of hostility” at the end of the Vietnam War era.  A second letter from the immigration service followed. It said the case would be reopened but asked for more information, including why he had claimed to be a citizen, had registered to vote and had voted. ... The only immigration document Mr. Hernandez has is a parole document, which he received as a 9-year-old when he arrived at Miami’s Freedom Tower with his family. The paper allowed him to remain in the United States indefinitely.  Cuban citizens are granted special immigration privileges when they flee Cuba and arrive in the United States. First, they are granted parole. After a year, unless they are criminals, they can become United States residents. Five years later, they can become American citizens. The only hitch is that the paperwork must be filed, which Mr. Hernandez’s parents never did on his behalf.  Growing up in Fullerton, Calif., Mr. Hernandez always assumed that all of this had been done for him as a child." - Lizette Alvarez, New York Times, May 13, 2014.