Newly Naturalized U.S. Citizen Serving in Afghanistan

The Arizona Republic recently profiled Oscar Vazquez, a member of the U.S. Army Airborne unit who is currently in Afghanistan fighting for the United States after years of battling to achieve his dream of becoming a U.S. citizen.

Vazquez was brought to the United States by his mother when he was 12, and he became a star student in high school and then at Arizona State University, where he earned an engineering degree, according to the Republic. To pay his way through college, Vazquez had to work construction jobs and secure private scholarships, because Arizona does not extend in-state tuition benefits to illegal immigrant students.

Despite having a highly employable degree and a wife and young daughter who were U.S. citizens, Vazquez had no work permit or other employment authorization document, meaning his options were severely limited after graduating from ASU, according to the Republic. He elected to voluntarily deport himself and apply for legal entry into the United States, which required him to either wait a decade or prove that his absence constituted an unusual hardship on his wife and daughter.

Twice, Vazquez’s application to reenter the United States was denied, and the Republic described the bleakness of this period, when Vazquez worked the night shift at an auto parts factory in Sonora. In 2010, his story came to the attention of The Republic, which ran a piece on him, and as a result of this media attention, U.S. Senator Dick Durbin from Illinois advocated on his behalf to immigration authorities. Vazquez was able to reenter the country in August 2010. He enlisted the next January, began basic training in April and was naturalized as a U.S. citizen in May.

While Vazquez was granted his immigration waiver and his story has a happy ending, not all stories play out this way. Minnesota Public Radio recently shared the story of Alyssa Garcia, whose husband, Charlie, died after being caught in gang violence in El Salvador while waiting to be granted a spousal waiver to return to his wife and child in the United States.