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Mexican national served as Marine for 8 years, now struggles to get U.S. citizenship

DENVER -- He’s a veteran who served and fought for our country for eight years -- even though he’s not even American.

He’s a Mexican national with a dream of becoming a US Marine.

It propelled him to learn English and get a high school diploma at Kennedy High School in Denver, even though he already had one in Mexico.

He was told his service meant automatic citizenship. Then, he found out it isn't that easy. Now he’s asking for help to live a life out of the shadows.

"This was everything I wanted to do. This was my dream, my life," said the 42-year-old, who only wants to be identified as J.C.

Photographs capture a boy becoming a man. He weighed 95 pounds and was not even 5-foot. But J.C. felt invincible.

He re-enlisted after four years.

"It was my dream. All of a sudden my dream became my worst nightmare," he said.

That’s because nine years ago he learned he wasn't a U.S. citizen even though his Marine Corps higher-ups told him citizenship was automatic with military service.

"I didn't understand. Why? I mean, I did all this for my country. All of a sudden I'm lost," J.C. said.

He kept losing jobs because he couldn't prove his citizenship. And he has been living in fear ever since, afraid he'll be found out and deported.

"What do I do with my kids? What do I do in Mexico? I've been here pretty much my whole life. I call Denver my home," J.C. said.

He had reached out for help from the Veterans Administration, lawyers, even his congressman. But no one helped him.

"I love this country. I fought for this country. I lost a lot of friends because of this country. And I just want to be a part of it,” he said.

He said the FOX31 Problem Solvers is his last hope. His story has become part of the series FOX31 Problem Solvers Serving Those Who Serve.

"He spent so much time fighting for us, to be free and have rights in this country that we have now. And here he is waiting and waiting, instead of moving forward. Because he has dreams to be more," said his mother Maria, who became a citizen herself through marriage.

"Anyone who has served in the military has shown their allegiance to this country. They are the kinds of citizens we want," immigration attorney Jeff Joseph said.

Joseph said he feels confident he can help, adding J.C. qualifies for citizenship because he served during a time of conflict and he was honorably discharged.

He said the process takes about four months. But he will try to expedite it.