Army veteran in US since age 8 deported to Mexico after prison stint

CHICAGO (KABC) -- An Army veteran who served two tours in Afghanistan and had been in the U.S. since age 8 has been deported to Mexico because of a 2008 drug-trafficking conviction.

Miguel Perez Jr., 39, who had a green card, was deported Friday, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials confirmed Monday.

The deportation came after Perez lost an appeal to remain in the U.S. and Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner refused to pardon him.

Perez was flown from Gary, Indiana, to Brownsville, Texas, where officers escorted him across the border and turned him over to Mexican authorities, an ICE statement said.

He spoke to the Chicago Tribune in a Thursday evening call from a detention center, saying "I'm not leaving. They're taking me."

"Not for 30 seconds was I illegal in this country," he said. "I went to war for this country out of love for this country."

Perez, a native of Mexico, came to the U.S. legally when he was 8 years old and grew up in Chicago. He served two tours of duty in Afghanistan before being discharged with a diagnosis of post-traumatic stress disorder, according to ABC7's sister station WLS-TV in Chicago.

In 2008, he handed a laptop case containing more than 4 pounds of cocaine to an undercover officer. He pleaded guilty to the drug charge and did seven years in prison.

Perez's mother, Esperanza Medina, told ABC News her son never formally filed for citizenship because he misunderstood the rules governing the process. As a result, Perez was placed into removal proceedings by ICE in 2012 while serving his prison sentence.

Perez's lawyer and family attribute his conviction to a period when Perez was self-medicating for pain related to his time in the service, they said. Perez's attorney Christopher Bergin said Perez "was blown out of his Jeep in Kandahar," and he suffered a traumatic brain injury and post-traumatic stress disorder as a result of the blast.

Perez told The Chicago Tribune last month that grenade and roadside bomb explosions during his tours led him to lose much of his hearing and suffer headaches. He also told the Tribune that after returning home from Afghanistan, he longed for the adrenaline rush from combat and eventually turned to cocaine. He ultimately opted for an early discharge from the Army after failing a drug test, he told the Tribune.

ICE officials said the agency respects the service and sacrifice of those in the military and is very deliberate in its review of cases involving U.S. military veterans.

Sen. Tammy Duckworth has been fighting on Perez's behalf. Upon news of the deportation, Duckworth released a statement Saturday saying, "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. 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."

"I am appalled that Secretary Nielsen did not respond to my personal appeal asking merely that she review Miguel's case and decide for herself whether deporting this brave combat Veteran was a good use of DHS' limited resources. I will be looking into additional oversight options in the near future to protect this from happening to any other combat Veteran," Duckworth said.

The Associated Press, ABC News and WLS-TV contributed to this report.
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