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Army Vet Discovers He Is Not US Citizen After Trying To Get Passport For Cruise

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MIAMI (CBS Tampa/AP) — Immigration authorities said Thursday that they are reviewing the case of an Army veteran and Cuban native who recently discovered he is not a U.S. citizen.

Mario Hernandez served in the Army during the Vietnam War 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.”

Hernandez said this has been a nightmare for him and his family.

“I’m living in a bad dream, and it’s like I’m hoping I’ll wake up,” Hernandez told CBS News. “But it’s not a dream. It’s definitely real.”

Hernandez’s attorney Elizabeth Ricci said they planned to meet with officials Tuesday in Tallahassee.

“The law says if you served during a designated period of hostility, which Vietnam was, you can jump from not having a status to citizenship without first being a resident,” Ricci told CBS News.

Since the Cuban revolution, those who leave the communist island generally get fast-tracked to U.S. residency and citizenship. Hernandez came in 1965 with his mother and assumed she filed immigration papers. When he entered the military, he recalls taking two oaths, one to become a soldier and another to become a citizen. He never worried about receiving a certificate. Nobody ever asked for it.

U.S. Citizens and Immigration Services Spokesman Christopher Bentley said Thursday his agency is reviewing the case and will meet with Hernandez.

“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.

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. Yet she said in recent months, officials had 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.

(TM and © Copyright 2014 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2014 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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