An injured U.S. veteran who served two tours of duty in Afghanistan faces deportation to Mexico after a Chicago judge ordered his deportation on Sunday.
"I feel terrible, because my son, right now, is a soldier with no nation – no Mexico, no USA, but my son fought for this country not for Mexico – now, he's not a national?" Perez's mother, Esperanza Perez, told local reporters at a press conference after the judgment was issued.
Miguel Perez, Jr. was brought to Chicago from Mexico when he was 8-years-old, later becoming a permanent resident and joining the U.S. Army. During his second tour in Afghanistan, Perez received a traumatic brain injury after his vehicle was hit by an IED and he continues to suffer from PTSD, according to WGNTV.
According to family those injuries — exacerbated by inadequate medical care from the U.S. Veterans Administration — made it difficult for Perez to find work after his honorable discharge from the army. He was convicted in 2010 for a non-violent drug offense.
"What Miguel was charged and did a sentence for was a non-violent drug conviction. He never hurt anyone," said Emma Lozano of the Lincoln United Methodist Church.
Perez completed a seven-year sentence but was immediately handed over to Immigration and Customs Enforcement upon his release in September.
Perez and his family had been fighting the deportation proceedings in court, arguing that he faces particular risks being deported back to Mexico where, according to his lawyer Chris Bergin, U.S. veterans are targeted for recruitment into drug cartels.
"Those kinds of people are immediately targeted upon entry to Mexico as people who can help criminal gangs, cartels, through their military experience, their weapons training, all that. They are targeted in the sense that, ‘You either work for us or we kill you'," Bergin said.
"The outcome of this determines the rest of my life spent away from my society, my way of life, my loved ones and not to mention, my country," Perez told the judge at his deportation hearing earlier this month. "This is my country regardless of what happens here."
Perez is the father to two U.S. born children, an 18-year-old daughter, and a 12-year-old son.
Perez told the court that he assumed by joining the army he was automatically granted citizenship. While military service does grant non-U.S. citizens a path to citizenship, many fall through the cracks of that process, according to an ACLU report on veteran deportations.
Perez and his family have appealed the ruling and are lobbying U.S. Senators Tammy Duckworth and Dick Durbin to intervene by introducing a bill to make Perez a citizen.
While ICE does not record the number of veterans it deports, activists estimate that thousands of vets have been deported since 1999. A 2016 report by the ACLU found that vets face unique risks upon deportation given the lack of access to medical support for service injuries.
"By requiring deportation and stripping immigration courts of the power to consider military service, the U.S. government abandons these veterans by expelling them to foreign countries at the moment when they most need the government's help to rehabilitate their lives after service," said Bardis Vakili, an ACLU attorney. "This is a tragic and disgraceful example of how broken our immigration system is."