A Rio Grande Valley, south Texas resident is afraid he’ll soon be deported, despite being a United States Army veteran, and serving in the Vietnam War.
Francisco Belmarez says that when he initially enlisted, along with the commitment came a spoken word agreement between he and his military liaison: if you join and fight, you’ll become an American citizen. Despite serving 11 years — three in the U.S. Army and 11 in the National Guard — and being honorably discharged, his citizenship still says Mexico, and not the United States.
“My recruiter, he promised me verbally. Not written down, that I would become a U.S. citizen as soon as I was discharged,” he told local Texas news outlet KRGV.
He was recently stopped at a “port of entry” and interrogated about his past, which includes crimes committed. He was soon thereafter put in front of a justice.
“I stood up as a soldier in front of the judge and told him, ‘Sir, I am an American sir and nobody will ever take that away from me,” Belmarez recounted. “He let me go and I thank him for it.”
His fear of being forcibly sent back to the country where he was born still lingers, however.
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“Most of the time, I’m more than careful on anything because they can use it against me and send me back to Mexico,” he said.
Belmarez reached out to Hidalgo County Veteran Services Officer Felix Rodriguez for help.
“Frankly, I don’t see why they have to do this. Everything is in black and white,” said Rodriguez. “It’s a matter of record they served the country. Grant them their citizenship.”
Rodriguez said many Valley veterans are currently in the same situation.
“There’s about eight or nine veterans. And those are the ones that have visited me,” he said. “There’s a whole lot more than that.”
Despite popular belief on the subject, a military member is not promised American citizenship upon serving. According to an official with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, the veterans have an opportunity to be privy to an “expedited” process, but no guarantee.
Belmarez still doesn’t possess the right to vote in a U.S. election.
USCIS has reported that, since 2002, they’ve enabled over 100,000 veterans become official U.S. citizens.