Another One Falls Through the Immigration Safety Net

Lawndale News Chicago's Bilingual Newspaper - Commentary

by Daniel Nardini

He came to the United States with his parents from Cuba when he was only five years old. His parents had fled the Communist take-over in Cuba, and like hundreds of thousands of Cubans came to live in this country. He served as a U.S. soldier during the later half of the Vietnam War (1964-1973), and then later was a prison guard. Now 58 years old, Mario Hernandez has discovered that he is not a U.S. citizen.

What happened is a good question, and one that has yet to be answered by U.S. immigration. When Hernandez applied for a U.S. passport to go on a Caribbean cruise with his wife and family, he was told by the U.S. government that he was not a citizen and not even a legal personal resident. And this is the perplexing part. By law, Hernandez should have been granted refugee status since there is a special law that automatically grants this to all Cubans fleeing Cuba. Why did this not happen for Hernandez?

More to the point, why did not Hernandez receive permanent residency or information about qualifying for U.S. citizenship? It seems that U.S. immigration has a lot to answer for. But now Mr. Hernandez is getting mixed signals from the U.S. government. On the one hand, they want to work with Hernandez to try and at least make him a legal permanent resident. On the other hand, the U.S. government may even prosecute Hernandez for voting in local, state and national elections because he was not a U.S. citizen. If all of this sounds crazy, it is.

A man fleeing from tyranny with his family, he served this country and even worked as a prison guard dealing with extremely dangerous people. Yet now the country he has helped serve is not sure what to do with him?! He should have been a U.S. citizen a long time ago, and his parents should have been informed of their legal options for their son. Will the U.S. government do the right thing and allow Mario Hernandez to stay and again be an asset to this country? Or will this country keep him in legal limbo (it is unlikely he will be deported to Cuba, where he will most certainly face prison and death)? At age 58, the U.S. government should give Mario Hernandez his life back.

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