CHICAGO – A deported Army veteran who served two tours in Afghanistan said he is feeling hopeful after his long-fought-for citizenship hearing.
Miguel Perez Jr. made national news 18 months ago after his citizenship was denied. The Afghan War veteran and green card holder served time in prison on a drug conviction.
In February of 2010, Perez was convicted of selling more than two pounds of cocaine.
Perez served seven years in the Army, but because he is not a U.S. citizen, Immigration Customs Enforcement detained him, stripped his legal status and began the deportation process.
He arrived in Chicago Tuesday on a 14-day parole pass and hopes to stay for good.
There was no decision Wednesday, but one is expected soon. Immigration officials had initially postponed the hearing, but after realizing the extraordinary lengths Perez Jr. went through to get to Chicago to attend it, and the national attention the case is getting, they decided to keep the appointment.
Perez Jr. said he is optimistic.
“It seems like it going to be a positive outcome,” he said.
Last month Governor JB Pritzker pardoned Perez, clearing the way for his citizenship petition to move forward. Tuesday he arrived back in Chicago on a 14 day parole pass to attend the citizenship hearing. Wednesday, he presented those pardon papers to the judge.
“It definitely seems like a much different feeling than I had fighting it all the way through the deportation process for the last couple of years,” Perez Jr.’s attorney Chris Bergen said. “And because the higher-ups are looking at it is positive sign.
“Now we wait and see and hope,” Perez said.
His family pastor spoke ahead of the Wednesday’s hearing and said many deported veterans come back dead.
“He fought for this country, for this flag, this constitution, and we give thanks to God for keeping him alive,” Pastor Emma Lozano said. “Many of the deported veterans come back in a coffin.”
Perez suffers from PTSD and a dramatic brain injury which contributed to his drug problems, family said.
Supporters claim Perez is under extreme threat in Mexico due to his military background fighting for the U.S.
Perez Jr. and Bergen are hopeful the decision will come before his 14 day pass expires. Bergen said if they need to, they will apply for an extension.