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US officials sorry for refusing veteran citizenship

MIAMI--Immigration authorities on Wednesday apologized for rejecting a Cuban native's naturalization request after the man belatedly discovered he was not a U.S citizen and quickly administered his Oath of Allegiance, finally making him a citizen nearly 50 years after he arrived in this country.

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services Spokesman Chris Bentley said the agency should have granted 58-year-old Mario Hernandez citizenship because of his Vietnam-era military service. Veterans who serve during designated periods of conflict do not have to meet all the standard requirements for naturalization.

“USCIS made a mistake in the adjudication of Mr. Hernandez's application for citizenship, and apologizes to him for any hardship this caused him and his family,” Bentley said in a statement, adding, “this morning after a thorough review of the case with Mr. Hernandez, we were able to approve his naturalization application.”

He initially said Hernandez would be able to take his oath and become a citizen at the next naturalization ceremony in his hometown of Tallahassee, but after Hernandez's attorney complained, authorities quickly changed course and naturalized him in their offices.

“USCIS issued a heartfelt apology which we accepted,” said Hernandez's attorney Elizabeth Ricci, following the meeting with officials in Tallahassee Wednesday.

Hernandez worked years for the Department of Justice's Bureau of Prisons using a Social Security number he received when he arrived in the country as a child. He said he thought he was a U.S. citizen and repeatedly voted.

It was only last fall when he sought a passport to take a cruise with his wife and needed a passport that he discovered the authorities did not list him as a citizen or as a permanent resident. Suddenly, his immigration status was in limbo, and he was under federal investigation.

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