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Military Citizenship Not Always Expedited

Mario Hernandez, a Vietnam vet who wished to naturalize, had served in the Army during a “designated period of hostilities,” as the relevant law terms it. As a result, Mr. Hernandez was eligible for an expedited citizenship process, and exempt from naturalization requirements including permanent residence and five years continuous physical presence. That was the good news. However, when his case was filed, the USCIS treated it as non-military, and that was bad news -- very bad news.

The trouble was that Mr. Hernandez had filed his citizenship case due to his discovery, 50 years after the fact, that when his parents came to the U.S. as Cuban refugees, he had not become a U.S. citizen or permanent resident as he had always thought. And, under the mistaken belief that he was a citizen, he had voted in every major election since 1976. That, among other things, threatened to put him in big trouble with the immigration authorities; foreign nationals have been deported for posing as U.S. citizens. This was despite the fact that Mr. Hernandez had worked for the Bureau of Prisons and had consequently undergone several federal background checks that never turned up a problem with his immigration status.

In the end, USCIS re-opened the case as a military naturalization, which made it approvable. However, deportation of military veterans who mistakenly believe they are citizens does regularly occur. As a Rutgers law review article pointed out, foreign nationals who enlist or were drafted are not always fully informed or assisted in their citizenship cases, despite anything the recruiter or the law might have to say. As a result, they leave military service and resume life as non-citizens -- and a non-citizen found to have committed any one of a long list of offenses may be, by law, deported.

The bottom line is, any non-citizen who has served in the U.S. military would be well advised to consult an immigration lawyer, and take advantage of the expedited citizenship process.