‘I didn’t know if I was going to see my wife and kids again’: U.S. veteran denied citizenship decades after service

Paul Canton told 9 Investigates reporter Jeff Deal that the revelation turned his world upside down and left him in fear he would be deported and lose his family.

U.S. military veteran Paul Canton’s life looks like the American dream. A good job, loving wife, house, dog and two kids. The only problem? After decades of living, working and voting in the U.S., he found out he isn’t actually a U.S. citizen.

Canton told 9 Investigates reporter Jeff Deal that the revelation turned his world upside down and left him in fear he would be deported and lose his family.

“I didn’t know if I was going to see my wife and kids again, my house,” Canton said. “I didn’t even know how I was going to provide for myself.”

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Canton was born in New Zealand in 1971 and grew up in Australia. He moved to Colorado as an exchange student when he was 17 years old, working ranches in an agriculture program.

Canton said he knew right away he loved America.

Toward the end of the first Gulf War, at the age of 19, Canton enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps.

At the time, he said, his recruiter told him if he served and was honorably discharged, he would be a U.S. citizen.

Toward the end of the first Gulf War, at the age of 19, Canton enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps.
Toward the end of the first Gulf War, at the age of 19, Canton enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps. (WFTV.com News Staff)

At the end of four years, he believed he'd earned his citizenship. Canton had his discharge papers and a Social Security card.

That was all he needed to get a driver's license when he moved to Florida, where he now manages a horse ranch near Ocala.

Canton used his discharge papers and a Social Security card to get a driver's license when he moved to Florida.
Canton used his discharge papers and a Social Security card to get a driver's license when he moved to Florida. (WFTV.com News Staff)

He's never been arrested. Since his military service, he's worked, paid taxes and was even audited by the IRS once.

He's voted in eight elections.

“I met my wife back in 2003, we got married way back then and got the house, got the dog and never doubted anything,” Canton said.

It was only when he went to get a new driver's license under the real ID program last year that he learned he wasn't a citizen.

At 48 years old, he had to apply for citizenship, which was denied last month.

The reason: He couldn’t demonstrate that he is a person of good moral character because he claimed to be a U.S. citizen when he registered to vote.

Canton now has a new attorney who filed an appeal showing “he did not vote knowing he was not a U.S. citizen” and that he has "not been charged or convicted."

Canton's attorney filed an appeal showing “he did not vote knowing he was not a U.S. citizen” and that he has "not been charged or convicted."
Canton's attorney filed an appeal showing “he did not vote knowing he was not a U.S. citizen” and that he has "not been charged or convicted." (WFTV.com News Staff)

He and his family are now waiting to find out what will happen.

“This has all kind of come at me and I'm a little shocked on the whole thing,” Canton said.

It's estimated that there are more than half a million foreign-born veterans in the U.S.

Canton said he fears there could be others in his same situation, which is why he wanted to share his story.