Just days after Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker pardoned the felony drug conviction for a deported Army veteran from Chicago, federal officials are now reevaluating that veteran’s citizenship application.
Miguel Perez Jr. was denied citizenship before he was deported to Mexico in March 2018. In light of his pardon, Perez’s attorney, Chris Bergin, filed an appeal Tuesday with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.
“I brought in the new information about Miguel’s pardon,” Bergin said. “I brought a legal argument as to why that pardon makes him eligible to become a citizen automatically.”
Bergin said officials are reviewing the appeal and a decision will be reached within 30 days. If Perez becomes a U.S. citizen, he will be able to return to Chicago.
Perez said he feels more hopeful about his chances of coming back to Chicago. He said Pastor Emma Lozano called him on Friday to tell him the news about the pardon, and they both cried because the news meant he was closer to coming back home.
“It’s been so overwhelming. I’m still at a state of shock,” Perez said. “I want to see my kids and my family and enjoy Chicago’s food.”
Carlos Luna, president of Green Card Veterans, said he has been working to get the pardon for over two years. He first lobbied former Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner, who denied the request, and then Pritzker.
“Pritzker ran on a campaign to reform Illinois’ criminal justice system, and he’s demonstrated that here,” Luna said. “Records presented to his office demonstrated how Miguel’s lack of access to appropriate treatments for his service-connected disabilities greatly contributed to Miguel’s poor decision-making at that time.”
Perez was born in Mexico but grew up in Chicago. He joined the military and was one of the first troops deployed to Afghanistan following the 9/11 terrorist attacks. He served two tours. He was diagnosed with a traumatic brain injury, and when he returned home, he struggled with post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD.
The 41-year-old has been living in Tijuana since he was deported. When Perez came back to Chicago from war, he struggled to readjust to civilian life. He started using drugs to cope and later spent seven years in state prison. While there, he received treatment for his condition, both therapy and medication. But that conviction also triggered deportation proceedings. A 1996 immigration law made it possible for legal permanent residents convicted of a crime to be deported.
He fought his deportation for over a year. His case made it to the federal appeals court but he was ordered deported. During that long battle, Perez applied for citizenship — something that should have happened while he was serving in Afghanistan.
Former President George W. Bush signed an executive order in 2002 to expedite citizenship for soldiers in active duty. Perez was stationed in Afghanistan and said his commanding officer never told him about the executive order.
Last week, Joaquin “Jack” Aviles, another deported veteran living in Tijuana, returned to the U.S. Aviles said his status as a legal permanent resident was reinstated. He returned home to Riverside, California.
The 43-year old was deported in 2001 after a felony. He was born in Mexico but grew up in California. Aviles was caught twice trying to go back to Riverside, and he served several years in federal prison for illegal reentry.
Aviles was featured in a WBEZ story about deported veterans published in June. Aviles is the co-director of Deported Veterans Support House in Tijuana, also known as the “the bunker.” The organization has tracked at least 400 deported veterans since it opened in 2014.
María Ines Zamudio is a reporter for WBEZ’s Race, Class and Communities desk. Follow her @mizamudio.