Ending a 16-month quest to stay in a country where he was raised and that he fought to defend, Miguel Perez Jr., a veteran who held a green card, has been deported to Mexico, where he has not lived since childhood.
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement confirmed Sunday that Perez boarded an ICE Air Operations flight at Gary International Airport and was flown to Brownsville, Texas. There, ICE officers escorted Perez across the U.S.-Mexico border and turned him over to Mexican authorities.
Perez was deported without the customary warning and opportunity to say goodbye to his family. He had no money or clothes and was left in a border town on the U.S. travel warning list, advocates said. His family will fly to Mexico on Monday to help him gather resources and ensure his safety.
“This is an intolerable way to treat a man who fought bravely for this nation,” said Emma Lozano, an advocate who has been fighting Perez’s case. “They have left him homeless and penniless in a dangerous place, without food or money or clothes or needed medications.”
Raised in Chicago since age 8, Perez enlisted before 9/11 and served until 2004. He was deployed to Afghanistan and served with the 2nd Battalion, 3rd Special Forces Group.
After his military service, Perez sought treatment at the Veterans Affairs hospital near Maywood, where doctors diagnosed him with post-traumatic stress disorder.
He was supposed to return for more tests to determine whether he also had a traumatic brain injury.
In the meantime, he reconnected with a childhood friend who provided free drugs and alcohol.
On Nov. 26, 2008, while with that friend, Perez handed a laptop case containing cocaine to an undercover officer. Perez pleaded guilty to the drug charge and served half of a 15-year prison sentence.
While Perez was convicted of delivering less than 100 grams of cocaine, prosecutors have said he was arrested for delivering much more and received a reduced sentence after a plea deal.
Prosecutors also pointed out that Perez was given a general discharge from the military after a drug infraction.
Perez is one of many veterans, some of whom sustained injuries and emotional trauma during combat, who have been decorated for service, then confronted with the possibility of deportation after committing a crime.
As with many others, Perez mistakenly thought he became a U.S. citizen when he took an oath to protect the nation. He discovered that was not the case when he was summoned to immigration court shortly before his release from a state penitentiary, where he had 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 placed in the custody of ICE and transferred to a detention center for immigrants awaiting deportation.
Perez, 39, told the Tribune last Thursday in a call from a detention center in Kankakee that all of his electronic devices had been shut off.
“I’m not leaving. They’re taking me,” he said. “They’re not going to teach me to never give up, and then I give up,” he added, referring to his military training.
Earlier this month, Perez’s petition for citizenship retroactive to when he joined the military in 2001 was denied by immigration officials.
In addition to the retroactive application for citizenship, he petitioned Gov. Bruce Rauner for clemency and appealed to the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for relief under the United Nations Convention Against Torture, a protection that resembles asylum.
Perez and human rights advocates believe his life will be in danger in Mexico. Drug cartels often try to recruit deported veterans for their combat experience.
Both requests for relief were denied.
His supporters included U.S. Sen. Tammy Duckworth, a Democrat from Illinois, who made a long-shot bid to keep him in the country by using a little-known legal maneuver known as a private bill, which is intended to help specific individuals. The bill did not get moved past committee.
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