By Barbara Liston
ORLANDO, Florida (Reuters) - Immigration officials are reviewing the case of Cuban-born U.S. Army veteran Mario Hernandez, who discovered he was not a U.S. citizen decades after he believed he had been naturalized when he enlisted during the Vietnam War era, a spokesman for U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services said on Friday.
Reuters reported on Tuesday that Hernandez's lawyer Elizabeth Ricci believed the agency was preparing a criminal case against Hernandez rather than trying to resolve his citizenship problem.
Hernandez, 58, found out while applying for a passport in 2013 that he was not a U.S. citizen. He came to the United States from Cuba with his family as a 9-year-old. He believed he was naturalized in 1975 when he enlisted during the Vietnam War era and was taken by recruiters before what he understood to be an immigration judge.
He now says the military failed to correctly process his naturalization paperwork.
After an honorable discharge, Hernandez worked for multiple state and federal agencies that conducted background checks that failed to uncover any citizenship problems.
Ricci received a telephone call Wednesday from the immigration services office offering a meeting for next Wednesday to discuss his case, according to her spokesman.
"We are currently reviewing Mr. Hernandez's case and will meet with him and his attorney to further discuss his application," Christopher Bentley, a spokesman for the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, said in an emailed statement.
Hernandez applied for citizenship in March, but was denied by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. Ricci filed an appeal, after which the agency asked Hernandez to provide a sworn statement concerning when, where, how and why Hernandez claimed to be a U.S. citizen, including his voting records.
Ricci said the information would pertain to a criminal prosecution rather than an attempt to correct his legal status.
Ricci said she previously represented two other clients with similar experiences in the military.
"I suspect there are hundreds if not thousands of cases like this around the country," Ricci said. "I think more people will hear his case and say, ‘hey, I never did get that naturalization paperwork.'"
(Editing by David Adams. Editing by Andre Grenon)