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Family hopeful Army veteran won’t be deported

Esperanza Perez, 60, and Miguel Perez Sr., 64, want their son to be allowed to stay in the U.S. | Stefano Esposito/Sun-Times

Miguel Perez Jr.’s mother, in halting English, declared him her “hero” and his father clutched an American flag before heading into a downtown immigration court Monday.

“Bring him home! Bring him home!” the incarcerated U.S. Army veteran’s supporters chanted as they awaited the results of a deportation hearing. A packed courtroom left many people waiting outside. As the hearing stretched into its third hour, word came from the courtroom that U.S. Immigration Judge Robin Rosche would not rule Monday; a written decision is likely to take a few weeks.

“Quite often the negative decision will come out right away. So the fact that she wants to consider it in a more thoughtful manner makes me optimistic,” Perez’s attorney, Chris J. Bergin, said after the hearing.

Despite serving two tours in Afghanistan, the 38-year-old Chicagoan, with two children living in America, faces deportation to Mexico for a drug conviction.

Perez, who is not a U.S. citizen, 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 has said.

Perez 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.

Perez, appearing in the immigration court via a video link, pleaded his case before Rosche for about two hours Monday. Bergin also argued that 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. Bergin has previously argued in court that Perez should not be deported because his life would be endangered by Mexican drug cartels.

“She is deciding whether we’ve shown that my client is more likely than not to be tortured or killed, or at least severely harmed, if he’s returned to Mexico,” Bergin said Monday afternoon.

If Perez is allowed to stay in America, he’d likely be set free, be allowed to work, but it’s unlikely he’d be granted a path to citizenship, Bergin said.

Sandra Marshall, Perez’s sister, was cautiously optimistic about her brother’s release.

“We’re still kind of nervous because we don’t have a decision,” said Marshall, 43. “We are hoping for the best. It’s all in God’s hands now. We want our brother home,”

Marshall’s daughter, 9, could barely keep back tears as she spoke to reporters.

“I want him just to come home. I want to spend time with him — all the time I can,” said Mary, her chin trembling, as she spoke.