EL PASO, Texas — A U.S. Army veteran who served two tours in Afghanistan has been deported to Mexico, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement said.
The deportation follows an earlier decision by U.S. authorities to deny Miguel Perez’s citizenship application because of a felony drug conviction, despite his service and the post-traumatic stress disorder he says it caused.
Perez, 39, was escorted across the U.S.-Mexico border from Texas and handed over to Mexican authorities Friday, ICE said in a statement.
Perez, his family and supporters, who include Democratic Sen. Tammy Duckworth of Illinois, had argued that his wartime service to the country had earned him the right to stay in the U.S. and to receive mental health treatment for the PTSD and substance abuse.
“It’s shameful to turn our backs on those who have the courage to wear the uniform,” Duckworth said after Perez’s citizenship application was denied. “We can do better than this.”
Perez was born in Mexico and came to the United States at age 8 when his father, Miguel Perez Sr., a semipro soccer player, moved the family to Chicago because of a job offer.
He has two children born in the U.S. His parents and one sister are now naturalized American citizens, and another sister is an American citizen by birth.
It’s a complicated case. Perez has said that what he saw and experienced in Afghanistan sent his life off the rails, leading to heavy drinking, a drug addiction and ultimately to his felony conviction.
“After the second tour, there was more alcohol and that was also when I tried some drugs,” Perez said last month. “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, he was convicted in Cook County, Illinois, on charges related to delivering more than 2 pounds of cocaine to an undercover officer.
He was sentenced to 15 years, and had served half his sentence when ICE began deportation proceedings. He had been in the agency’s custody since 2016.
Perez has said he was surprised to be in ICE detention and mistakenly believed that enlisting in the Army would automatically give him U.S. citizenship, according to his lawyer, Chris Bergin.
His retroactive application for citizenship was denied earlier this month.
While there are provisions for expediting troops’ naturalization process, a main requirement is that the applicant demonstrate “good moral character,” and the drug conviction was enough to sway the decision against his application, Bergin said.
Perez enlisted in the Army in 2001, just months before 9/11. He served in Afghanistan from October 2002 to April 2003 and again from May to October 2003, according to his lawyer.
He left the Army in 2004 with a general discharge after he was caught smoking marijuana on base.
Perez went on a hunger strike earlier this year, saying he feared deportation would mean death. Aside from not getting the treatment he needs, he said he fears Mexican drug cartels will try to recruit him because of his combat experience and will murder him if he doesn’t cooperate.
“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.