Miguel Perez Jr. is a 39-year old Chicagoan and a veteran of the war in Afghanistan who came back to the United States with post-traumatic stress disorder. America does not consider him worthy of becoming a U.S. citizen.
On Thursday night, the Chicago Tribune reported that the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services agency denied the request of Perez—a legal permanent resident who was born in Mexico and came to the U.S. with his family when he was eight—to be granted retroactive citizenship dating back to when he joined the military, which could prevent him from being deported:
“To be eligible for naturalization, you must demonstrate that you are a person of good moral character,” the letter from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services said. “Because you have been convicted of an aggravated felony on or after Nov. 29, 1990, you are unable to demonstrate good moral character; therefore you are permanently ineligible for naturalization.”
When Perez came back to the United States, he suffered from PTSD and turned to drugs and alcohol. Perez’s “aggravated felony” stems from 2008, when he handed a laptop case with cocaine in it to an undercover cop; he later served seven-and-a-half years in prison for this crime.
Perez was not allowed to return to his family at the end of this sentence. Instead, he was detained by ICE, and has been in an immigration jail since September 2016. Earlier this year, in order to protest a pending deportation after losing an appeal in federal court, he went on a hunger strike; ICE’s response was to place him in solitary confinement. While the Tribune notes that not all of Perez’s options are exhausted after Thursday’s loss, it’s still a “significant defeat,” and Perez still faces deportation.
Perez’s story is not an uncommon one; the ACLU of San Diego said in a 2016 report that there were 239 deported veterans from at least 34 countries, a number that’s bound to have risen since then due to the spike in deportation arrests under the Trump administration.
“Mr. Perez has been detained for months, separated from his family and left without access to the care he needs, deserves and has earned,” Illinois Senator Tammy Duckworth, who lobbied USCIS officials to grant Perez citizenship, told the Tribune. “If the military and our government hadn’t failed Mr. Perez multiple times, he’d never have been in this predicament to begin with.”
“This is yet another example of the Trump Administration’s callous disregard for the valuable contributions of our immigrants. What message are we sending to our immigrant servicemembers (sic) today when they see how we treated Miguel?” Democratic Rep. Bobby Rush of Chicago added in a separate statement. “We broke him, did not help him, and when he tried to help himself, we punished him.”