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Valley Veteran Fears DeportationPosted: Updated:
WESLACO - A Rio Grande Valley veteran said he fears he will be deported after serving in the military.
U.S. Army Veteran Francisco Belmarez said he was promised U.S. citizenship after his service in the Vietnam War. He said the agreement was not met.
The veteran was honorably discharged after serving 14 years. He said he has a social security number and military benefits, but he now wants the right to vote.
“We were combat ready. We had our ammunition, grenades, everything,” he said. “We were reserves in case they would send us to Vietnam at that time.”
Belmarez said he spent three years in the U.S. Army and 11 more in the U.S. National Guard.
The veteran was born in Tamaulipas, Mexico and moved to the U.S. as a child. By the time he was 18, Belmarez said he decided to join the army.
“My recruiter, he promised me verbally. Not written down that I would become a U.S. citizen as soon as I was discharged,” he said.
However, Belmarez said his U.S. citizenship was never granted.
The veteran said he was questioned at a port of entry where authorities found out he has a criminal history. Belmarez said he was sent to a detention center to plead his case.
“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,’” he said. “He let me go and I thank him for it.”
Belmarez said he still fears he’ll be deported.
“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.”
U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services Public Information Officer Arwen Consaul said a misconception existed that you would become a U.S. citizen if you served during Vietnam and other wars. They said veterans have a chance to get their rights as soon as possible.
“Members of the military who served honorably during times of war, in periods of conflict; and those include World War I, World War II, Korean War, Vietnam War and the current was in Afghanistan and Iraq, can apply for expedited naturalization due to our military program with USCIS,” she said.
Belmarez said he hopes his right to vote will come soon.
USCUS said they have naturalized more than 116,000 service members since 2002.
Consaul also said they help people become naturalized before they head off to war. She said they developed the naturalization at Basic training Initiative with the U.S. Army in 2009 and the U.S. Navy in 2010. The U.S. Air Force joined in 2011 and the U.S. Marines in 2013.
Link: USCIS Military Website