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2nd Time a Charm for New Citizen

Times Staff Writer

An El Sereno man who, for nearly four decades, mistakenly believed he was a U.S. citizen finally became one Wednesday.

A beaming Martin Velasquez Venegas pledged allegiance to the United States of America in a makeshift courtroom at the Los Angeles Convention Center, along with more than 5,000 others from 102 countries.

In doing so, he laid to rest a misconception that began in 1945.

Venegas, 70, came to this country legally from his native Mexico when he was 5 years old. But he did not apply for citizenship until he was drafted into the Marine Corps near the end of World War II.

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Then, he recalled, he told his commanding officer that he wanted to be naturalized, and a clerk helped him fill out a form. Venegas recalled that the clerk asked him to swear that the information on the form was true.

And with that, Venegas said, he thought he had been sworn in as a citizen.

Any doubts were erased a year later when the Marines presented him with an honorable discharge that said explicitly that he was a U.S. citizen.

Venegas, who owns an auto upholstery business near downtown Los Angeles, said he acted like a citizen--traveling back and forth freely between this country and Mexico--until 1982, when he tried to obtain a passport to visit his son-in-law’s parents in England.

“No way could I get a passport,” he said.

Passport office clerks would not accept his discharge papers as proof of citizenship. They demanded, instead, that he produce a U.S. birth certificate or a certificate of naturalization.

Venegas began to investigate. Concluding that someone in the Marine Corps or the Immigration and Naturalization Service had probably deposited his original application in a wastebasket, Venegas filed a new one.

Walking into the Convention Center auditorium for the swearing-in ceremony Wednesday, a volunteer handed Venegas a small American flag and a form to use to register to vote.

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Venegas had to laugh.

“I’ve been voting for 40 years,” he said.


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