A Chicago immigration judge ruled last week that an Army veteran who served in Afghanistan be deported back to Mexico, according to a local ABC affiliate.
The decision comes after Miguel Perez Jr. served seven years in prison for a felony drug offense. Perez, 38, was born in Mexico but has lived in the United States since the age of 8. He enlisted in the Army as a legal permanent resident in 2001 and served two tours in Afghanistan with U.S. Special Forces.
“My son served for this country, not for Mexico,” Perez’s mother, Esperanza Medina, told reporters at a Pilsen church on Sunday.
The veteran told The Chicago Tribune that after returning to the U.S. from the war zone, he had trouble finding work and was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder. Perez said he sought treatment at a VA hospital, where they intended to run more tests to confirm a possible traumatic brain injury, but grew discouraged by the drawn-out process.
While he waited, he spent time with a childhood friend who gave him free drugs and alcohol. While with that friend, Perez handed a laptop case full of cocaine to an undercover officer in November 2008. He pleaded guilty and served seven years in a state penitentiary for the drug charge.
Months before his release, he was told he faced deportation to Mexico. A U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officer spokesperson told ABC7 Chicago that Perez was targeted for removal after being convicted of the felony.
Perez, who is currently in ICE custody, was under the impression he automatically became a U.S. citizen after enlisting. By 2016, he realized too late that he needed to apply for expedited citizenship.
“The sweat, tears and sometimes blood we shed for this country makes us as American as anyone born here,” Perez told the Chicago Tribune in February.
Chris Bergin, Perez’s attorney, has appealed the judge’s ruling and asked U.S. Sens. Dick Durbin and Tammy Duckworth, both Democrats from Illinois, to give the Army vet retroactive citizenship.
“That’s all they have to do, say, ‘We’re going to approve your citizenship from 2002 when you went to Afghanistan,’” Bergin told CBS2. “If they do that, then … he committed a crime later, he served his time in the regular criminal jail and he’s not deportable.”
Bergin did not immediately respond to a request for comment from The Huffington Post.