Federal immigration agents deported Miguel Perez Jr., 39, to Mexico on Saturday after denying his citizenship because of a felony drug conviction. He was convicted for selling more than two pounds of cocaine to an undercover police officer and sentenced to prison for 15 years in Illinois. With a criminal conviction, he forfeited his green card status and made himself deportable.
“He was dumped in one of the most dangerous areas of the Mexican border,” Perez’s lawyer Chris Bergen told NBC News. “We will continue to fight his case and appeal his citizenship denial.”
Perez came to the United States from Mexico at the age of eight with his family because his father Miguel Perez Sr. moved the family to Chicago for a job. His parents and one sister are naturalized citizens and another sister is American-born.
Perez had enlisted in the army after the September 11 attacks, the Chicago Tribune previously reported, and was later diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) after his service ended. He reportedly began hanging out with a friend who supplied him with free alcohol and drugs. While with the friend, Perez gave a laptop case containing cocaine to an undercover officer in 2008, the publication reported, and later pleaded guilty to the drug charge in 2010. He served half of his prison sentence when the ICE agency began deportation proceedings, CNN reported, and that was when he found out he wasn’t already a citizen.
Bergen previously filed a stay of removal based on his PTSD and brain injury, as well as asking for retroactive citizenship based on his military enlistment. Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-IL) also introduced a private bill in February.
“ICE exercises prosecutorial discretion, when appropriate, on a case-by-case basis for members of the armed forces who have served our country,” U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement spokesperson Nicole Alberico said. “ICE specifically identifies service in the U.S. military as a positive factor that is considered when deciding whether or not prosecutorial discretion should be exercised.”
When Congress overhauled the federal immigration system and expanded the definition of “aggravated felonies” in 1996 to include new crimes punishable by deportation, it also made it easier to make immigrants serve their prison sentences and then be turned over for removal proceedings. As a result, immigrants often get deported as a form of double punishment.
There are many issues with Perez’s deportation, but the act of permanent banishment in his case is not particularly unusual given the extent of his criminal conviction. It’s also not surprising that Perez’s deportation took place under President Donald Trump, who has explicitly expressed his disdain for immigrants by granting broad authority to federal agents to detain and deport people. Yet pro-immigrant advocates would be wise not to use Perez’s deportation to criticize the Trump administration since other administrations have similarly deported veterans in the past.
So many veterans have been deported that deported Army veteran Hector Barajas saw a necessity to build the Deported Veterans Support House in Tijuana, Mexico in 2013. Barajas was deported in 2010 under the Obama administration after being convicted of a felony in 2002. Similar to Perez, Barajas alleged that he suffered from untreated PTSD.
Perhaps the most relevant discussion for Perez’s case is how the military can ensure that its soldiers receive proper proper treatment before they come to a breaking point. Having served in Afghanistan, Perez and other service members were part of the longest combat operations since Vietnam.
An U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs overview on PTSD found that anywhere between 10 to 18 percent of Operation Enduring Freedom/Operation Iraqi Freedom (OEF/OIF) troops are likely to have PTSD when they return. According to a 2017 Rand Corp study, the Military Health System has been able to appropriately screen for suicide risk and substance use, but follow-up services are much lower. The study also found that less than half of service members got an “adequate amount of initial care when beginning treatment for PTSD or depression.” The military needs to focus more on providing resources on helping those with PTSD. Last month, a New England Journal of Medicine study found “no significant differences” between a group using prazosin (the drug used to treat nightmares associated with PTSD) and placebos over the course of ten weeks.