Leave it to the U.S. government under the Trump administration to act about as un–American as it gets with an Army vet who developed post–traumatic stress disorder and possible brain injuries while serving two tours in Afghanistan.
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement confirmed that it deported 39–year–old veteran and Chicago native Miguel Perez Jr. on Friday. According to a statement to CNN, ICE said agents escorted Perez across the U.S.–Mexico border in Texas and handed him over to Mexican authorities.
His transport from an IL detention center to a country he hasn’t called home since he was 8 years old is the latest chapter in a tragic saga that should have ended in redemption—or at least medical treatment.
Instead, as ABC 7 News’ Sarah Schulte reported, after having served his country, Perez is now being sent to a nation where he has no family, no money, and no clothes. ICE even shut off his communications devices without warning and failed to promptly alert his family that he was being deported.
In the U.S. government’s opinion, Perez, who served in Afghanistan from October 2002 to October 2003 after enlisting in 2001, lacks the “moral character” to obtain U.S. citizenship, a letter from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services stated. The letter was a response to Perez’s appeal—with support from U.S. Senator and war hero Tammy Duckworth—for retroactive citizenship from the time he enlisted in the Army.
At issue for immigration authorities are Perez’s nonviolent drug conviction and subsequent imprisonment for having sold about two pounds of cocaine to an undercover police officer in 2008.
Perez acknowledged that he had become addicted to drugs and alcohol after returning from Afghanistan. His arrest occurred after he was diagnosed with PTSD at a local Veterans Affairs hospital. He was supposed to return for more medical tests to see if he had brain damage when he was arrested, the Chicago Tribune reported.
During the seven years he spent in prison for the drug charges, Perez said he had no idea that he hadn’t actually obtained citizenship after joining the Army. He said he first became aware that he was at risk for deportation shortly before his 2016 release, according to the Tribune.
“Instead of heading home to Chicago from prison, Perez was placed in the custody of Immigration and Customs Enforcement and transferred to a Wisconsin detention center for immigrants awaiting deportation,” the newspaper reported.
It gets worse: When Perez decided to wage a hunger strike to protest his deportation order, ICE placed him in solitary confinement, which can exacerbate PTSD and cause other serious mental health issues.
Duckworth had introduced a so–called “private” bill in Congress to give Perez citizenship, but it was too late. “If the military and our government hadn’t failed Mr. Perez multiple times, he’d never have been in this predicament to begin with,” Duckworth told the Tribune earlier this month.
Perez’s father, Miguel Perez Sr., who came to the U.S. legally in the 1980s as a semi–professional soccer player, called his son’s deportation “barbaric.” U.S. Rep. Bobby Rush, from Chicago, said earlier this month, “We broke him, did not help him, and when he tried to help himself, we punished him.”
Perez leaves behind two U.S.–born children, his parents and a sister who are naturalized U.S. citizens, and another sister who is a U.S. citizen by birth, CNN reported. He said his life could be in danger in Mexico, where he fears drug cartels may try to forcibly recruit him due to his military training.