A U.S. Army veteran who served two tours of duty in Afghanistan has been deported to Mexico.
Miguel Perez, 39, was escorted across the U.S.-Mexico border from Texas and brought to Mexican authorities Friday, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement said in a statement to CNN.
Perez’s deportation came after his citizen application was denied due to a felony drug conviction.
But the veteran’s supporters, including devastated family members and Sen. Tammy Duckworth of Illinois, said Perez’s substance abuse was a result of the PTSD he was battling following his years at war.
“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 following reports of Perez’s deportation. “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.”
Perez was born in Mexico, was legally brought to the United States when he was 8 years old and became a legal permanent resident when he was 11.
His father, Miguel Perez Sr., moved the family to Chicago after being offered a job there and has since, along with Perez’s mother and sister, become a naturalized American citizen.
Perez’s other sister is an American citizen by birth and he has two children, an 18-year-old daughter and a 12-year-old son, who were born in the United States.
Perez enlisted in the Army in 2001, months before the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
“On July 3, 2002, President George W. Bush signed an executive order authorizing all non-citizens who have served honorably in the U.S. Armed Forces on or after Sept. 11, 2001, to file for U.S. Citizenship,” Duckworth said in a statement. “Perez was not offered support from the U.S. Army to Naturalize as a U.S. Citizen on two separate occasions during his service: Prior to his April 2003 deployment to Afghanistan, and upon his return from that deployment in October 2003.”
Perez left the Army in 2004 after he was reportedly caught smoking marijuana on base, and his family said he went on to suffer from PTSD.
“We looked for help for him, but nobody helped him at the time,” his mother, Esperanza Perez, told WLS-TV.
Perez said he self-medicated, drank heavily and got into drugs, which ultimately led to his felony conviction.
“After the second tour, there was more alcohol and that was also when I tried some drugs,” Perez told CNN 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, Perez was convicted of delivering more than two pounds of cocaine to an undercover officer.
He was sentenced to 15 years and his green card was revoked. He was in the middle of serving his sentence when ICE took him into custody in 2016.
Perez mistakenly believed serving in the Army would automatically give him U.S. citizenship. His retroactive application was denied earlier this month.
Though provisions for expediting the naturalization process for troops do exist, applicants must demonstrate “good moral character” and Perez’s drug conviction worked against him, his attorney Chris Bergin told CNN.
Before his deportation, Perez said he feared being sent back to Mexico, where he believed drug cartels would try to recruit him for his combat experience and murder him if he refused.
Bergin said in an email to InsideEdition.com that Perez was left with nothing when he was dropped on the other side of the border.
“He had no money, no food, and was still wearing his only clothes, the prison clothes he left in,” Bergin said.