Fronteras Extra: 'We Did Everything We Could To Honor ... His Sacrifice'

Apr 13, 2018

Mario R. Ortiz, district director for U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, has been working for the agency for 30 years. In that time, he’s heard countless stories of inspiration from the immigrants he’s encountered while processing their applications for green cards or citizenship.

Ortiz was particularly touched by a noncitizen he was not able to help.

Mario R. Ortiz, District Director, USCIS
Credit U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services

“When someone is not yet a U.S. citizen and they are killed in action, their family members are entitled to a posthumous certificate of citizenship, that on the day they were killed they became U.S. citizens.” said Ortiz, who received word of the death of a young Marine in 2005.

Ortiz had a son in the service at the time, and was given the duty to present the posthumous certificate of citizenship to the young man’s parents.

“That was terribly painful,” he said.

It’s a process he went through again a few years later with the death of San Antonio Marine Sgt. Cesar Ruiz, who was killed in 2009 while serving in Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan.

“We were so moved by (the) story of Sgt. Cesar Ruiz,” he said. “… (He) went to high school here, married his high school sweetheart, and he was killed in his early 20s. We were so moved by that story, we presented the certificate at the ceremony at the gravesite at Fort Sam (Houston), (and) we named the ceremony room in his honor.”

Mario R. Ortiz speaking with the staff of the USCIS at the San Antonio field office
Credit U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services

  Ortiz’s early career was highlighted by the 1986 congressional act that bestowed blanket amnesty to more than 2.7 million undocumented immigrants living in the U.S. He said it’s an act that’s had positive repercussions with the passing of generations.

“They all came forward, they all applied for a green card, and five years later, everyone of them petitioned for their mother, their father, their brother, their sister,” he said. “Then they, five years later, came to apply. Then 30 years later, exponentially, where do you think those 3 million people are now? Millions and millions and millions of people who have all benefited from that one act of Congress. That was, perhaps, the most meaningful thing I’ve ever done.”

Norma Martinez can be reached by email at norma@tpr.org and on Twitter @NormDog1.