SAN DIEGO - Five years after being forced to leave the United States, a man who served in the Iraq War as a U.S. Marine was granted citizenship Thursday.
Former U.S. Marine and Iraq War veteran Daniel Torres returned to the United States Wednesday afternoon - five years after he was forced to leave when it was discovered he was undocumented.
Torres' family originally came to the U.S. on a visa to visit, but once it expired his family stayed illegally. In 2007, Torres was living in Utah and used fake documents to enlist in the Marine Corps.
When Torres enlisted, he took an oath to support and uphold the constitution and defend the only country he called home.
“When I enlisted as an American citizen I knew the risks. You know it was something that could come up, it was something that could come back and hurt me. I was just hoping that I wasn’t going to pay for that mistake for the rest of my life,” said Torres.
After an honorable discharge from the Marines, Torres told KSWB he tried to get legal status, but failed and it became apparent he would have to leave the country.
Torres resided in Tijuana, Mexico where he lived and began attending law school.
Torres was granted permission to cross the San Diego-Tijuana border Wednesday afternoon in order to attend a hearing in federal court. A judge decided Thursday that Torres would be granted U.S. citizenship.
Torres was sworn in hours later at United States Citizenship and Immigration Services in downtown San Diego.
“I’ve been waiting for this moment for five years,” said Torres. “Officially, on paper now...And now I’m able to finally go home, and live the life that I feel like I need to live."
It’s a day the 30-year-old thought would never come, but now he is proud to say he is officially an American.
“We don’t choose where we are born. I didn’t even choose to come to this country, but we can choose who we are loyal to and I’m loyal to the United States,” said Torres.
And he’s not the only one. According to the ACLU, there are thousands of deported veterans struggling to come home.
“They are for all intents and purposes already U.S. citizens except for the fact that that they don’t have that piece of paper,” said director of the ACLU of California’s Immigrant Rights Attorney Jennie Pasquarella. “Through the attention that Daniel’s case has gotten, our government will step forward and provide a solution… not just to ensure that veterans deported don’t continue to be deported, but that those that have already been deported can have a pathway home.”
Torres hopes to help others like him, in similar situations find their way home.
“I just am really, really happy, to be able to finally go home and be here where I feel I belong,” said Torres.
Torres says he is anxious to see his family in Utah. He also plans on returning to Tijuana to finish the last year of law school.