An immigration hearing was held in Chicago this week for an Army veteran who served two tours of duty in Afghanistan, sustained a brain injury in combat, suffers from post-traumatic stress—and may now be deported to Mexico over a non-violent drug offense.
Pfc. Miguel Perez Jr, 38, came to the U.S. from Mexico when he was just eight years old. Perez, whose parents are both U.S. citizens, told the immigration judge he loves the United States and considers himself a devoted patriot. After the 2.5-hour hearing, the judge said a decision will be issued in a few weeks.
“He’s more American than most of us standing here, because he did pick up arms to defend this country,” Perez’s mother said at a press conference at Lincoln United Methodist Church in Chicago’s Pilsen neighborhood.
Perez was a legal permanent resident when he joined the Army, becoming one of nearly 35,000 non-citizens serving in the U.S. military. ATTN reports that over 109,000 people have been granted citizenship through their military service since the 9-11 attacks, and Perez said he thought he automatically became a citizen when he enlisted .
He only realized this was not the case upon his release from Hill Correctional Center in Galesburg, Ill., where he’d served seven years for handing over a bag of cocaine to an undercover police officer. Instead of heading home to Chicago from prison, Perez was transferred to the custody of Immigration and Customs Enforcement. He’s now sitting in a Wisconsin detention center for immigrants awaiting deportation.
Perez’s attorney, Chris Bergin, argued at the heating that his client’s life would be in danger if he is sent to Mexico.
According to human rights observers and advocates for deported veterans, Mexico’s narco-gangs target former U.S. servicemen for recruitment—and those who don’t comply can become marked men.
“There’s a pattern of impunity, of the [Mexican] government either participating or looking the other way…in human rights abuses,” Bergin said, according to the Chicago Tribune.
Veterans are often easily identified by their tattoos, and Perez described three that he wears—an image of the Statue of Liberty, a battlefield cross to honor a fallen soldier and the U.S. Army Special Forces insignia that reads in Latin: “To liberate the oppressed.”
“It’s not what I think would happen to me. It’s what I know,” Perez was quoted by the Tribune. “It’s not like I can…fit in and blend in. It just doesn’t work that way. How long can I hide the fact I’ve been deported and I was in the military?”
But if the recent case of a Texas youth threatened with deportation to Honduras for about a joint’s worth of pot is any sign, Perez’s chances of staying in the homeland he fought and bled for may be greatly diminished in the era of Donald Trump.