Three decades in the United States. Two tours of duty in Afghanistan. That may not keep Army Private 1st class Miguel Perez, Jr. from getting deported to Mexico because of a felony drug conviction.
He faced a hearing last Monday in Chicago, but the decision hasn’t been made yet. For now, 38-year-old Perez hangs in limbo.
A legal permanent resident, he joined the army in 2001—months before 9/11. He served two tours of duties in Afghanistan, according to a Chicago Tribune profile. One in 2002 and another 2003, doing maintenance for Special Forces, deliveries to troops, and doing patrols and raids of suspected Taliban-controlled areas. He said these experiences left him with bad hearing and recurring headaches because of his proximity to grenades and roadside bomb explosions.
Perez loved the work, but he soon developed a drug habit. He started using cocaine after returning to Fort Bragg in North Carolina. Failed a drug test, he said, so he chose to do an early discharge. His troubles didn’t end there. He told the Tribune that VA doctors diagnosed him with post-traumatic stress disorder. Later, in 2008, his drug and alcohol problems reached a peak after he started getting supplied by a childhood friend. Perez said he handed a laptop full of coke to an undercover officer, leading to a 15-year prison sentence. He served half.
All told, however, Perez says he cleaned up behind bars; got therapy, received antidepressants for a mood disorder. He also earned an associate degree and became a teacher’s aide, working with other inmates on their GEDs.
But then he learned about deportation proceedings. Perez was a non-citizen convicted for a felony, and now he faces removal to a country he hasn’t been to since he was a little kid. He may well have missed his chance at staying: President George W. Bush signed an executive order in 2002 benefiting non-citizens who served after 9/11. It got easier for them to become Americans. Perez assumed it was automatic. It wasn’t: he needed to apply.
His lawyer now argues that he’ll be in danger if he gets sent down to Mexico—drug cartels are known to zero in on U.S. soldiers for recruitment.
“Those kind of people are immediately targeted upon entry to Mexico as people who can help criminal gangs, cartels, through their military experience, their weapons training. All that,” attorney Chris Bergin said in court. “They are targeted in the sense that, ‘You either work for us or we kill you.'”
The judge in his deportation hearing said she’ll make her decision about Perez in a matter of weeks.
[image via Anurake Singto-On/Shutterstock]