He’s not an American citizen, but he should be.
That’s the argument attorney Chris Bergin will make during an immigration hearing Monday on behalf of his client, Miguel Perez, who, despite serving two tours in Afghanistan with the U.S. Army, faces deportation to Mexico for a drug charge.
Perez, 38, and a Chicagoan, was in the country legally when he joined the Army in 2001. And he was under the mistaken impression that his military service automatically made him a citizen, Bergin said.
He realized this was not the case, and that he could be deported, while serving prison time for delivering cocaine. His family blames the error in judgment, which landed him in prison for seven years, on head injuries and PTSD resulting from his time in Afghanistan that went untreated until Perez finally received medical attention behind bars.
On Sunday, Bergin explained the new argument he’ll present to an immigration judge: Perez qualifies for citizenship under an executive order signed by President George W. Bush in 2002 that called for “expedited naturalization for aliens and non-citizen nationals serving in an active-duty status” during Operation Enduring Freedom.
Perez meets all criteria despite his drug conviction, Bergin said. “He just has to demonstrate that he has a good moral character for one year prior to filing his citizenship application,” he said, adding that Perez has “been a model inmate” who tutors other inmates.
The Immigration and Nationality Act required the military to inform Perez — either when he was inducted into military or at the time he was deployed — of his options regarding citizenship, Bergin said Sunday at a news conference in the Pilsen neighborhood held at the Lincoln United Methodist Church, which works closely with immigrants under threat of deportation.
“He should have been made a U.S. citizen automatically by the people that wanted him to go and possibly die for them, but I guess it slipped their minds,” said Bergin, who is seeking an end to deportation proceedings and Perez’s immediate release.
He previously argued that Perez should not be deported because his life would be endangered by Mexican drug cartels that would use coercion if necessary to capitalize on the service of an American military veteran with combat experience.