Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker granted clemency Friday to a U.S. Army veteran who was deported to Mexico last year after serving a 7 1/2 -year prison sentence for a felony drug conviction.
Miguel Perez Jr., who was raised in Chicago from the time he was 8 years old and had a green card, joined the Army before 9/11 and served with a Special Forces unit in Afghanistan. Before U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement put him on a plane to Brownsville, Texas, in March 2018 and escorted him across the U.S.-Mexico border last spring, Perez fought for more than a year to stay in the country. Being granted clemency will allow him to petition for reentry.
Perez, reached by phone at his Tijuana, Mexico, apartment Friday evening, said he learned the good news first from Chicago minster Emma Lozano.
Lozano, who serves as the pastor of Lincoln United Methodist Church, a Pilsen neighborhood church where many families are fighting the deportations of their loved ones, pledged to lobby for legislation to protect so-called green-card veterans such as Perez.
Lozano told him she just received a call from Pritzker to inform her he had granted Perez clemency.
"Tears started running down my face," Perez said. "There's nothing I can really say to put this feeling into words."
Getting deported devastated Perez.
"I spent some time in prison ... but when I got deported it was like they moved me to a bigger cell with a better view because I'm not at home," he said.
He knew the governor's actions brought him one step closer to reuniting with his friends and family in the only city he loves -- Chicago.
Barely taking a breath, Perez rattled off a list of things he misses about Chicago. The simple things, he calls them. He misses catching a cab. He misses the Maxwell Street Polish with mustard and hot peppers. He misses Giordano's deep-dish pizza with sausage, mushrooms and jalapenos.
"I miss being part of my city," Perez said. "I'm Chicago 100%."
After leaving the military in 2004, Perez was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder at the Department of Veterans Affairs hospital near Maywood. In November 2008, he was arrested after handing a laptop case containing cocaine to an undercover police officer.
Perez, who was given a general discharge from the Army after an earlier drug infraction, pleaded guilty to possessing less than 100 grams of cocaine and was sentenced to 15 years in prison.
Perez previously told the Tribune that he mistakenly believed he became a U.S. citizen when he took an oath to protect the nation when joining the Army. He learned that was not the case shortly before he was released from state prison in September 2016.
Immigration officials last year denied Perez's petition for citizenship, retroactive to when he joined the military in 2001. He also petitioned then-Gov. Bruce Rauner for clemency and the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for a form of protection resembling clemency. Both were denied. U.S. Sen. Tammy Duckworth also tried unsuccessfully to have Congress intervene on his behalf.
Perez told the Tribune he was deported without warning and not given the opportunity to speak with his family. He was left in Matamoros, a town in a border state where the U.S. State Department has told Americans not to travel because of crime and kidnapping.
"The threats are very real, very serious," he said last year. "They want to prove a point."
Pritzker used the clemency, which was recommended by the Illinois Prisoner Review Board in April 2017, to attack President Donald Trump's immigration policies.
"Miguel Perez should not have been deported. The bigoted immigration policy of President Trump and failed leadership of former Gov. Rauner have caused unfortunate circumstances for a U.S. veteran who served two tours in Afghanistan," Pritzker said. "In evaluating this request for clemency, I recognize this pardon is not a perfect solution, but it is the most just action to take to allow a U.S. veteran the opportunity to be treated fairly by the country he served."
"I would like to say thank you to the governor," Perez said Friday evening. "You kept your promise. You kept your word."
Perez's two children and his parents live in Illinois and are U.S. citizens, according to the governor's office.
This article is written by Dan Petrella and Javonte Anderson from Chicago Tribune and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.