U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has deported Miguel Perez, a U.S. Army veteran who served two tours in Afghanistan and says his time in the military caused his PTSD.
According to ICE via CNN, the immigration agency escorted Perez, 39, across the U.S.-Mexico border in Texas and turned him over to Mexican authorities on Friday.
Perez, born in Mexico, came to the U.S. legally when he was 8 years old, when his father, a semi-pro soccer player, moved the family to Chicago for work. Perez’s parents and one of his sisters are naturalized citizens, his second sister having been a citizen born in the U.S. Perez’s two children were born in the U.S. as well.
Enlisting in the Army months before Sept. 11, Perez served two tours in Afghanistan, the first from October 2002 to April 2003, and the second from May to October 2003. He left the Army with a general discharge in 2004 after getting caught smoking marijuana on base. Perez previously told CNN that his time in the military led him into alcohol abuse and drug addiction.
“After the second tour, there was more alcohol and that was also when I tried some drugs,” Perez said. “But the addiction really started after I got back to Chicago, when I got back home, because I did not feel very sociable.”
In 2010, Perez was sentenced to 15 years in prison and had his green card revoked after he delivered more than two pounds of cocaine to an undercover cop. After serving half his sentence, ICE began deportation proceedings in 2016, where he was in custody until his deportation. According to the Chicago Tribune, Perez was deported before being able to say goodbye to his family along one of the most dangerous parts of the border, with only a few belongings: a toothbrush, toothpaste, a pair of thermal underwear, and the clothes he was wearing.
Despite his felony conviction, Perez’s family and advocates, including Illinois Sen. Tammy Duckworth, say his service should have earned him citizenship in the U.S., giving him access to resources for PTSD and substance abuse. Perez had previously petitioned for clemency was denied his appeal in January, according to the Tribune. Then, Perez’s retroactive application for citizenship was denied earlier this month. In a final effort, Duckworth has proposed a private bill to help Perez stay in the U.S., but it’s still sitting in committee.
“This case is a tragic example of what can happen when national immigration policies are based more in hate than on logic and ICE doesn’t feel accountable to anyone,” Duckworth said in a statement to CNN. “At the very least, Miguel should have been able to exhaust all of his legal options before being rushed out of the country under a shroud of secrecy.”
Earlier this year Perez went on hunger strike, fearing that his military experience would make him susceptible to being forced to join the Mexican drug cartels, and killed if he didn’t, should he be deported.
“If they are sentencing me to a certain death, and I am going to die, then why die in a place that I have not considered my home in a long time?” he asked.