CHICAGO (CBS) — Riding a multitude of emotions, deported Army veteran Miguel Perez Jr. is back in Chicago for a hearing on whether he can become a U.S. citizen.
His deportation made national headlines after his citizenship application was denied because of a 2010 drug conviction. Perez served 7 ½ years in prison for a non-violent crime and was deported to Mexico in 2018.
On Tuesday, at a church in Pilsen, surrounded by family, friends and supporters of his cause, Perez said he couldn’t describe his feelings, only that he was happy to be home. Perez, who flew in from Texas, was told Tuesday morning that his hearing had been cancelled. According to Perez’s attorney Chris Bergin, an official with the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) informed him the hearing was back on.
“It’s been overwhelming and full of anxiety because we flew out of (Texas) early this morning, and as soon as we got here we saw friends and family in the community,” Perez said. “Right now I’m with friends and family and that’s the most important thing right now.”
Gov. JB Pritzker granted Perez a full pardon last month, and hopes that opens the door to citizenship.
Perez has been issued a 14-day stay in the U.S. Before a stop in Texas, Perez said he had been living in Tijuana for about a year. He said he hopes to learn more about his temporary stay and whether it can be extended. Perez said the worst part of his experience, including spending more than seven years in prison, was being deported.
“I don’t regret anything because it has taught me a lot. When people come together, they go through outstanding stuff,” Lopez said.
He doesn’t have immediate plans for the future, only to spend time with his family and friends. Perez said if he gets to stay, he wants to work with the advocates who helped with plight, including getting the governor’s pardon. But closest to his heart is the chance to help other veterans who were deported.
It’s unclear how many veterans have been deported since according to a watchdog study. But Perez is determined to not let them fall through the cracks.
“I see how some live. I just happen to be back right now. But everybody else, they’re not home.”