CHICAGO (CBS) — U.S. Army veteran Miguel Perez Jr., who was deported last year over a 2010 drug conviction, was back in Chicago on Wednesday, hoping to become a U.S. citizen.
Perez served 7 ½ years in prison for a non-violent drug crime, and was deported to Mexico in 2018.
Gov. JB Pritzker gave Perez a full and unconditional pardon earlier this year, and immigration officials have allowed him into the U.S. for two weeks to apply for citizenship.
U.S. Army veteran Miguel Perez, Jr. says he’s optimistic about this morning’s citizenship hearing. His deportation made headlines after his citizenship application was denied because of a 2010 drug conviction. Perez served 7 ½ years in prison and was deported to Mexico in 2018. pic.twitter.com/cqCKi2Cl4m
— CBS Chicago (@cbschicago) September 25, 2019
Perez was scheduled for a citizenship hearing on Wednesday, and said he’s confident everything will work out.
“All I gotta say for right now is that I’m blessed, and I’m very hopeful, and that’s all I can say for now,” he said.
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 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.
Perez served two tours of duty in Afghanistan, and suffered a traumatic brain injury after being injured in an explosion. He has said post-traumatic stress disorder contributed to his drug addiction.
Perez was supposed to receive an expedited path to citizenship under a 2002 executive order issued by President George W. Bush, but due to an oversight he was not.
His family members, including two children and parents, live in Illinois and are U.S. citizens.
Perez said he doesn’t have immediate plans for the future, only to spend time with his family and friends. If he gets to stay, Perez wants to work with the advocates who helped with his 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.”