According to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the army veteran has been deported to Mexico.
Miguel Perez Jr. U.S. citizen application was denied citing a felony drug conviction. The fact that served two tours during the Afghanistan war where he provided maintenance for Special Forces troops occupying Firebase Gecko, a former Taliban command post didn’t stop his deportation.
“This case is a tragic example of what can happen when national immigration policies are based more in hate than on logic and ICE doesn't feel accountable to anyone. At the very least, Miguel should have been able to exhaust all of his legal options before being rushed out of the country under a shroud of secrecy,” said Sen. Tammy Duckworth of Illinois.
Army Private 1st class Miguel Perez Jr., 38, served two tours during the Afghanistan war where he provided maintenance for Special Forces troops occupying Firebase Gecko, a former Taliban command post. In the line of duty, Perez was at the site of many grenade and roadside bomb explosions, which led him to lose much of his hearing and suffer severe headaches.
Now, after all his sacrifices, a Chicago immigration judge has ordered he be deported back to Mexico.
Perez is one of the many decorated war heroes who sustained physical and emotional trauma during combat but have been confronted with possible deportation after committing a crime.
The Army vet immigrated with his parents to the United States when he was just 8 and was living here as a legal, permanent resident. He listed in the Army in 2011 and served two tours in Afghanistan with the U.S. Special Forces.
But after returning from the war zone, he discovered that no one would employ him. He was also diagnosed with post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and sought treatment for it at a VA medical center. But the drawn out process discouraged him and while he was waiting, a friend introduced him to drugs.
On Nov. 26, 2008, Perez handed a laptop case filled with cocaine to an undercover officer and was sentenced to seven years in prison. While in jail, he saw a psychologist and a psychiatrist, started taking antidepressants and worked as a teacher’s aide teaching inmates getting their GEDs.
He was paid $28.80 a month for the job and when he tried to apply for a higher paying one, he was told he was not eligible because he was not a citizen. This was news to Perez as he thought his years of military service would automatically grant him U.S. citizenship. But he was wrong.
On July 3, 2002, President George W. Bush signed an executive order that demanded non-citizens who had served in the armed forces on or after Sept. 11, 2001, to immediately apply for expedited citizenship. Perez was in Afghanistan at the time and did not learn the process was not automatic and he was obligated to apply.
When the vet learned this in 2016, it was too late for an application.
For years, the Perez family has fought against his deportation claiming his life would be at risk from drug cartels — who target U.S. veterans with combat skills to work on their behalf — if he is sent back to Mexico.
When Perez faced the judge in December, veterans who advocate on behalf of green-card soldiers requested for leniency arguing Perez came back from the war traumatized.
According to the Department of Veterans Affairs, 11 percent of Afghanistan war veterans suffer from PTSD. And it’s not just military personnel who are afflicted.
About 7-8 percent of the American population will have PTSD at some point in their lives. Over 8 million adults have PTSD during a given year.
Men who suffer from PTSD are more likely to have experienced accidents, physical assault, combat, disaster or witnessed injury or death in their past. But 38 percent of men also have experienced sexual harassment when in the military.
People with PTSD experience anxiety, depression, despair, chronic pain and relationship issues. They also face unemployment and drug problems, which is exactly what happened to Perez.
His family and lawyer, Chris Bergin, are pleading with U.S. Sens. Tammy Duckworth and Dick Durbin to introduce a bill to make Perez a citizen.
“That’s all they have to do, say, ‘We’re going to approve your citizenship from 2002 when you went to Afghanistan,’” Bergin told CBS2. “If they do that, then ... he committed a crime later, he served his time in the regular criminal jail and he’s not deportable.”
As for Perez, he states he is an American.
“The sweat, tears and sometimes blood we shed for this country makes us as American as anyone born here,” Perez told the Chicago Tribune in February.
Banner and thumbnail credit: Reuters, Carlo Allegri