‘I always thought Uncle Sam took care of me’

Emilio Hoyos Hernández, who was born in Tijuana, assumed he had been granted citizenship because his military security clearance paperwork listed him as a “U.S. naturalized citizen.” While visiting Mexico, he discovered he wasn’t a U.S. citizen after all. (Photo by Mara Friedman/Cronkite News)

TIJUANA, Baja California, Mexico – Emilio Hoyos Hernández, who was born in Tijuana, spent his early years moving across the porous U.S.-Mexico border. His family relocated to Los Angeles when he was 2½ and lived there until he was 9.

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After completing elementary school in Tijuana, Hoyos Hernández moved back to the U.S. to continue his education.

“I did about 1½ years of college, but I wasn’t satisfied with myself … I wanted something a little bit more. I always had a thing about airplanes,” he said, so he joined the Air Force in 1974.

During his military career, Hoyos Hernández rose through the ranks and was eventually granted top secret security clearance. The paperwork listed him as a “U.S. naturalized citizen,” Hoyos Hernández said. “With that I said, ‘Well great, I finally got my citizenship.’”

Hoyos Hernández was never deported; he left the U.S. to care for his ailing father in Tijuana. While there, he discovered his green card had expired and he wasn’t a U.S. citizen after all.

“I never questioned the system … I always thought Uncle Sam took care of me.”

Hoyos Hernández has been living in Tijuana for nearly 20 years. He doesn’t want to present himself at the border without proper documentation in fear that it may hurt his chances to ever return. He discovered the Bunker this past Memorial Day. Now, with the help of Barajas-Varela, he’s working to get back home.

Madeline Ackley

Borderlands Reporter, Phoenix

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