Okay, you’ve served three years in the U.S. Army, voted in every presidential election since Jimmy Carter and worked for government agencies in Florida and Washington

Not only that — you’ve even labored for the Department of Justice in a job that mandated background checks every five years.

So…what’s the last thing you suppose a tax-paying, American-as-apple-pie guy with these credentials would discover?

Mario Hernandez (Image source: WCTV-TV)

Mario Hernandez (Image source: WCTV-TV)

We’re describing one Mario Hernandez of Tallahassee, Florida — who’s not actually a citizen of the United States, according to a report in The New York Times.

Hernandez, 58, got the bad news in the quite the ironic way: He and his wife were planning a cruise to celebrate his retirement from the federal Bureau of Prisons after 22 years of service — an agency which requires citizenship, of all things. When Hernandez looked into getting a passport, he found out wasn’t even a U.S. resident in addition to not being a citizen.

Hernandez — who has two children, one of whom served in Afghanistan — came to America as a Cuban child refugee, which means he has political amnesty and the U.S. government can’t deport him. That Caribbean cruise would have been his first venture out of the U.S. since coming here nearly a half century ago.

But the painful flip side is that he won’t be allowed back in if he leaves U.S. soil — and he can no longer vote.

Believe it or not, Hernandez could even face retroactive penalties for voting when he wasn’t actually authorized to do so.

“I thought I was a citizen — I’ve always been proud of being a citizen,” Hernandez told the Times. “This has really messed with my head.”

More from the Times:

At a time when immigration overhaul remains on the table in Congress, Mr. Hernandez’s plight is the latest example, and one of the more extreme, of how large federal bureaucracies can stumble when it comes to identifying who is here legally, illegally or somewhere in between. With so many immigrants in the country under so many varying rules, keeping track can sometimes pose monumental challenges. [...]

At the moment, he exists in immigration limbo — not fully legal or illegal. 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.

While a change.org petition demanding naturalization citizenship for Hernandez has received nearly 80,000 signatures, his path toward that goal looked in serious doubt…then on Thursday, a ray of hope.

Immigration authorities said they are reviewing Hernandez’s case, the Associated Press reported, adding Ricci expects to meet with them early next week.

More from the AP:

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.

“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,” U.S. Citizens and Immigration Services Spokesman Christopher Bentley told the AP.

For Hernandez, a resolution can’t come soon enough.

“It’s like I’m living a bad dream,” Hernandez added to the Times. “This cannot be real; I’ve been living here 49 years. This is the only country I’ve ever known.”

(H/T: Daily Zone)

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