CHICAGO (CBS) — The family of a combat veteran who faces deportation to Mexico because of a drug delivery conviction asked a state panel Thursday to recommend that Gov. Bruce Rauner grant him a pardon.

The Cook County State’s Attorney’s office argued against clemency for Miguel Perez Jr., saying he delivered two kilograms of cocaine to an undercover agent. Perez served seven years in prison and Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents took him into custody immediately upon his release.

The rest of those who spoke at the Illinois Prisoner Review Board hearing on Thursday said Perez suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder following two deployments to Afghanistan in 2002 and 2003, and made bad choices at the time, but has straightened out.

His mother, Esperanza, wept as she spoke, telling the panel, “My son is my hero.”

Activist pastor Walter Coleman, of the Lincoln United Methodist Church, in Pilsen, told the panel that deporting Perez would be a death sentence, and not just because he hasn’t been to Mexico since he was 8 years old.

“The cartels in Mexico are waiting to recruit those with military experience, like Miguel, or if they refuse, to kill them,” he said.

The Chicago City Council, the Cook County Board of Commissioners, and the Illinois General Assembly all have approved resolutions backing his request, even though clemency alone cannot keep Perez in this country. Perez currently has permanent resident status. Attorney Chris Bergin, who represents Perez, said his client was told serving in the military would speed up his citizenship request, but said Perez “slipped through the cracks.”

Bergin said he believes Rauner’s support could tip the scales in Perez’s favor. His strategy is to have Perez awarded citizenship retroactive to the time he enlisted in the U.S. Army, long before any problems occurred.

The panel did not indicate when they will rule. Perez has been detained for the past year at a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement detention center in Wisconsin.

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