'Somehow these guys fall through the cracks': Military veteran denied US citizenship again

Paul Canton enlisted in 1991. A year ago, he found out he wasn't a U.S. citizen.


A U.S. military veteran from Florida has been denied U.S. citizenship for a second time.

On Wednesday, Paul Canton's family, his wife and sons, waited hours to see him leave a hearing in Orlando that would decide his citizenship, only to get bad news.

His attorney, Elizabeth Ricci, said this story began with his Marines Corps Service date in 1991. The time when he enlisted became part of why he is not a citizen.

"Because he enlisted during a designated period of hostility, Persian Gulf War, but his actual service did not start until after the designated period of hostility had expired," Ricci said.

Further complicating things, Ricci said Canton was led to believe by a recruiter that an honorable discharge would make him a citizen.

"He was never eligible to be a Marine to begin with. The Marines, as do all our branches, require permanent residency, the green card, or citizenship. He was neither. He was here as an exchange student, but the recruiter lied to him. He's 19 years old, he doesn't know any better. He says OK, he enlists in a country that he was not born in, serves for more than four years, only to find out that recruiter had no authority to say what he said. Who knows where that recruiter is now and here's Paul, denied for his citizenship," Ricci said.

Canton was born in New Zealand and grew up in Australia.

“He gave the recruiter his passport from New Zealand so there was no false claims to citizenship. The recruiter knew he was not a U.S. citizen,” Ricci said.

Canton has been in the states for decades and now lives near Ocala with his family. They are citizens, but he is not a citizen anywhere.

Canton’s story goes even further. He has had a driver’s license and a Social Security card. He has paid taxes and he has voted.

More than a year ago, while renewing his driver’s license, he found out he was not a citizen. Ricci said Canton was informed because Florida was a Real ID compliant state and could no longer accept his DD 214 form and asked for proof of citizenship to get the new Real ID.

Canton realized he did not have those documents, believing he was a citizen for decades because of his service. He then had to apply to become a citizen.

Earlier this year, he was denied for the first time.

Why? It was stated that he had voted, claiming to be a U.S. citizen and, because of that, it was determined he was of poor moral character.

Ricci said at Wednesday's hearing that claim on him was dropped by federal officials.

So what is next for the military veteran and his family?

"Maybe his wife will sponsor him. I'm going to talk to him and his family about maybe going through her. Requesting a special bill, or even litigating this," Ricci said.

If the situation isn't resolved, Ricci said Canton would have to check in with Immigrations and Customs Enforcement periodically.

Ricci said military service is not an automatic path to citizenship in the United States. You still have to go through the citizenship application process.

“You have to affirmatively apply,” she said.

Ricci adds Canton is not the only United States military veteran in this situation.

“I’ve had dozens. I’m in Tallahassee, and we know that there are somewhere between 530 and 640,000 foreign-born vets. I hear the same story over and over from each one: ‘the recruiter said my service would make me a citizen.’

“Somehow these guys fall through the cracks,” Ricci said.