MCALLEN, TX -- The fight is not over for a pair of military veterans living on the border. The battle is not about defending the country but to defend their right to become U.S. citizens.
The two former servicemen said they were promised this privilege if they enlisted.
Every year during Veterans Day, Francisco Belmarez and Mayanin Casarez are reminded of the sacrifices they’ve made for the country.
But despite their service, this country does not recognize them as citizens.
“My sadness will always be in me because of that,” Belmarez said.
The Vietnam War veteran told KENS 5 that he crossed the river from Mexico with his parents at age five. He then enlisted in the U.S. army in 1971.
Before he was deployed to Germany, Belmares said he was told by his recruiter that he would get the chance to become a citizen at the end of his tour.
“There was nothing written down. It was verbal,” he said.
Since then, he’s served 11 years in the Texas National Guard, but his case has hit some roadblocks, he said because of minor run-ins with the law, like being caught smoking marijuana.
“I fear that I have to walk in a straight line because I’m a permanent resident and any violations could deport me to Mexico,” he said.
That fear is now greater than ever after the election of Donald Trump.
“It’s a sad day for me because I didn’t get to vote, and I feel like my vote would’ve done something,” he sobbed.
Casarez is in similar circumstances: She joined the military in 1979 and went to Germany but didn’t enlist during the war.
However, she feels just as helpless.
“It is very frustrating," she said. "But we have to go on."
U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) spokeswoman Arwen Consaul said the agency is aware of people like Casarez and Belmarez but adds that they can’t comment on specific cases.
They do, however, admit that the rules were different back in the 70’s. Only those who are permanent residents and served honorably during time of war qualify.
“It’s come to our attention before, and so that’s why we partnered with the [Department of Defense] so that people, when they join boot camp and aren’t citizens, we can capture them there and talk to them and get them to become U.S. citizens,” Consaul said.
Both Casares and Belmarez are permanent residents and said their allegiance to the United States is unshakable. Both vowed to continue their plea to the government, but in the meantime, they can’t avoid the feeling that they’re forgotten.
“When you’re saluting, it is like part of you is sad,” Casarez said.
“I feel that once a soldier always a soldier,” Belmarez added. “And we deserve the citizenship.”
USCIS treats these cases on an individual basis, but they say there are resources available specifically for military veterans who may need assistance at their official website.