PORTAGE PARK, Ill. (CBS) — Gov. JB Pritzker has granted clemency to U.S. Army veteran Miguel Perez Jr., who immigrated to Illinois as a child, the governor’s office said Friday. Perez served 7.5 years for a “non-violent offense” and was deported to Mexico in 2018.
Perez joined the Army in 2002 and served two tours as a Special Forces mechanic in Afghanistan, where he suffered a traumatic brain injury after being injured in an explosion, according to Pritzker’s office.
He still requires medical treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder following his service. That led him to make some poor decisions, his attorney Chris Bergin said in 2017.
Perez was a legal resident, and his service was supposed to provide him an expedited path to citizenship under a 2002 Executive Order by President George W. Bush, but that did not happen “due to oversight,” according to a release from the governor’s office.
After Perez was released from prison for a felony drug conviction in September 2016 he petition the Illinois Prisoner Review Board, arguing that a pardon might prevent his deportation. According to Pritzker’s office, the board recommended clemency in April 2017, but then-Gov. Bruce Rauner denied the petition in February 2018.
“Perez was deported in March 2018 without prior contact with his family, left at the Mexican border nearly penniless without clothing or shelter,” the release stated.
He had not been back to Mexico since he entered the U.S. when he was 8 years old.
“Miguel Perez should not have been deported. The bigoted immigration policy of President Trump and failed leadership of former Governor Rauner have caused unfortunate circumstances for a U.S. veteran who served two tours in Afghanistan,” said Gov. JB Prtitzker. “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.”
Perez’s family, including two children and parents, live in Illinois and are U.S. citizens, according to Pritzker’s office.
“I’m crying a lot, a lot,” said Perez’s mother, Esperanza Perez. “Sometimes I’m very angry. say, ‘God, when? When?'”
But her answer may be close after the governor’s decision.
“This opened the door for my son,” she said.
Perez Jr.’s criminal slate has been wiped clean in Illinois, but his conviction still stands federally because it is drug-related. This means there are more hurdles for him to climb before coming back to America.
“It’s just indescribable,” Perez Jr. said. “Being away from my family and everything that I love, my community, my home. It’s just like being trapped. I fought for my homeland, which is America, which is Chicago, which is Illinois. Now, to be sitting here, it’s just … no.”
Perez Jr.’s attorney said he has a meeting with federal officials set for Sept. 3. as they continue to fight for his return.