“If you’re going to put your hand on your hearts every time at a game, you’re going to say thank you for your service and wear American flag lapel pins and you’re going to criticise football players for taking a knee during the national anthem, it seems that’s all superficial and false patriotism if you’re not caring about an actual military veteran,”
-Shiller Preyar Law Offices Lead Immigration Attorney Chris Bergin
This week was filled with anxiety in regards to Miguel Perez, a U.S. Army veteran facing deportation. He is on a religious fast that is now at 30 days with 10 more to go. He greatly appreciates the support he has received from across the country.
At the detention center in Kenosha, Wisconsin, where Mr. Perez was held for over a year, the staff placed him on suicide watch against their own psychiatric staff's advice. Therefore he was in administrative segregation which left him more isolated and dependent on guards to get him water and gatorade for his fast.
Solitary confinement caused a great deal of stress for Mr. Perez. Attorneys from Shiller Preyar Law Offices (SPLO) tried to get his personal physician in to check on his health but after first agreeing to this, his Immigration Customs Enforcement (ICE) Agent and her supervisor rejected the request.
On Wednesday, February 28, Mr. Perez was transferred to Kankakee County Detention Center in Kankakee, Illinois. This is a facility that has promised to take care of Miguel and so far they have done just that.
Senator Tammy Duckworth has been championing Mr. Perez's cause in Washington D.C. After submitting a private bill for him in February, she has met with the legal counsel for John Cornyn (R-Texas) and Charles Grassley (R-Iowa), the two committee chairs who can stay Mr. Perez's removal based upon the private bill. This would allow time for our citizenship application to be decided by USCIS.
In January, SPLO filed an application for retroactive citizenship effective the day he enlisted in the U.S. Army, and for a stay of deportation while that application is processed. In February Governor Bruce Rauner denied his petition for clemency, a move that saved a deported veteran in California.
Mr. Perez emigrated with his family from Mexico to the United States, legally, as a child in 1989. He went to Chicago Public Schools and graduated from Carl Schurz High School on the Northwest side of Chicago, and after graduation he attended St. Augustine College. There, he enlisted in the Army in 2001.
As a result of his time in the military, Mr. Perez, like up to 20% of veterans of ‘Operation Enduring Freedom,’ suffers from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. When he returned to Chicago he started having panic attacks, flashbacks, and mood swings. This condition caused him to withdraw from public spaces and he began to drugs and alcohol to cope.
In 2008 Mr. Perez pled guilty to delivering a package of cocaine for a friend, who had been under investigation by law enforcement for some time. While serving his prison sentence Mr. Perez obtained an associate’s degree and was a teacher’s assistant in the prison’s school program. He joined Alcoholics Anonymous, and finally got psychiatric help for his PTSD. He went to every class they had on anxiety, depression, and substance abuse. He started going to church faithfully, took parenting classes, and maintained regular contact with his daughter.
But the day he was released from his criminal sentence in September 2016, Mr. Perez was taken into custody of Department of Homeland Security (DHS) in Wisconsin. At the first facility he was taken to he didn’t have access to his medication or other mental health care, despite multiple requests.
SPLO has been in immigration court for Mr. Perez since February 2017; in July an immigration judge ordered Mr. Perez be deported. But in July, SPLO lead immigration attorney Chris Bergin convinced a judge to let Mr. Perez stay in the country while he appealed the decision. In September SPLO filed a petition for the Seventh Circuit United States Court of Appeals to review the deportation order.
Miguel Perez admitted his crime and has served his sentence. He has committed to learning how he got to the point that he engaged in criminal activity, and has worked to actively better himself so that he can re-enter society and help others avoid making the same mistakes.
The stakes are extremely high: if deported to Mexico Mr. Perez will be targeted for recruitment by drug cartels, like too many other deported veterans. He will also leave his family behind and two children without a father.
Image: Miguel Perez poses as he holds a photo of his son Miguel Perez Jr, in Chicago, Illinois ( JOSHUA LOTT/AFP/Getty Images )