A Florida man who became a U.S. citizen after he fled Castro’s Cuba nearly 50 years ago is now dealing with a startling discovery: He never was a citizen, despite being in the Army and working for two federal agencies.

No one ever told Mario Hernandez he couldn’t serve in the Army or work for the Bureau of Indian Affairs or the Bureau of Prisons because he lacked citizenship, The New York Times reported last week.

“I thought I was a citizen — I’ve always been proud of being a citizen,” the 58-year-old Hernandez told the Times. “This has really messed with my head.”


Hernandez, of Tallahassee, was 9 when his family left Cuba for the U.S.  As a Cuban refugee he could get legal status and a Social Security card, but not citizenship.

He joined the Army in 1975 believing that he was a citizen, CBS This Morning reported. He was also a federal prison guard for two decades. He held sensitive assignments, including supervising Oklahoma City bombers Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols. A qualification for the prison job was citizenship. Hernandez also had to undergo regular background checks to keep the job. He voted in elections, and no one stopped him.

Hernandez found himself in immigration limbo recently when he sought a passport to go on a cruise with his wife, Bonita, and was told that he wasn't a citizen.

In March the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services nixed his citizenship application.

CBS reported that in a statement the agency said: "We are currently reviewing Mr. Hernandez's case and will meet with him and his attorney to further discuss his application."

"I'm living in a bad dream, and it's like I'm hoping I'll wake up," Hernandez told CBS. "But it's not a dream. It's definitely real."