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“I was given birth in Guadalajara, but life in Chicago,” said Miguel Perez Jr. to Oxygen.com.
United States veteran Miguel Angel Perez-Montes, 39, was deported to Tijuana on March 23 after numerous interventions — including Senator Tammy Duckworth filing a private bill specifically for him, and a hunger strike that made headlines.
Miguel, who moved to the United States at age 3, and is a father two children who were born in the U.S. and are citizens, is a sympathetic figure to some: he is a veteran, suffering from P.T.S.D. His brush with the law was serious — a felony drug conviction — but ultimately, nonviolent. While serving his time, he completed his Associate’s degree and started receiving treatment for his disorder.
“It should never have happened in the first place,” said Sen. Duckworth in her press release in February 2018, before her efforts proved futile in keeping Miguel in the United States. She wrote multiple letters in support of Miguel and even whipped up some social media interest.
Sen. Duckworth, a veteran herself, introduced a package of four comprehensive bills in August 2017 to stop deportation of veterans, give permanent residents a clear pathway to citizenship through service, establish naturalization offices at military training facilities and bolster VA healthcare.
When it looked like all else failed, Sen. Duckworth tried to intervene by directly appealing to the Department of Homeland Security on the day of Miguel’s deportation.
Despite viral tweets and a story that some people find sympathetic, Miguel has found himself “back” in Tijuana — without healthcare or other veteran benefits. He was dropped off across the border in an orange jumpsuit, with no money, his lawyer told NBC.
“My military service does not cancel out my crime conviction. Absolutely not,” said Miguel of his 2008 arrest for handing a laptop bag of cocaine to an undercover cop. He pled guilty and served about half of his 15-year sentence before ICE deported him. Miguel doesn’t believe his status as a veteran makes up for his crime, though.
“That’s why I pled guilty. Because of what was put in my by the military -- the integrity, the loyalty. Especially integrity. I didn’t run away from the problem -- I could have.”
But what does Miguel have to say to people living in the United States who ask what they can do to help?
“The first thing that most people say is funding, funding, funding,” he said. “We need money for this -- but money doesn’t solve everything. Get involved. Call your politicians, your elected officials, make noise. If you’re making contributions...make sure they go to the right place, to the right people.”
He points out the divide between action and general sentiment.
“If you’ve got 90 percent of people saying do not deport veterans, and 10 percent saying yes because they’re criminals or because they’re unaware of the situation… the first three words of the preamble are ‘We The People.’ Not I, the President, I, the Attorney General, no, it’s we the people.”
[Photo of Miguel Perez Jr.: Oxygen]