Deported Army veteran Miguel Perez Jr. sworn in as U.S. citizen

Perez served two tours in Afghanistan in 2002 and 2003 and was deported in 2018 after he was convicted in a drug case.

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Flanked by family members and supporters, Army veteran Miguel Perez Jr. speaks with reporters after a citizenship hearing with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services in Chicago, Wednesday, Sept. 25, 2019.

Miguel Perez Jr. speaks with reporters after a citizenship hearing with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services in Chicago on Sept. 25, 2019.

Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Sun-Times

This land is his land.

Army veteran Miguel Perez Jr. was granted U.S. citizenship Friday — a year and a half after he was deported to his native Mexico.

Perez, 39, was sworn in at a naturalization ceremony at the Chicago field office of U.S. Immigration and Citizenship Services in the South Loop.

“It’s official,” Perez said at a news conference at Lincoln United Methodist Church in Pilsen following the ceremony. “It’s been a long journey, a long battle.”

Last week, officials reopened Perez’s citizenship application after tossing it out in 2010 following a drug conviction that landed the combat veteran in prison for eight years.

Authorities handed over Perez to Immigration and Customs Enforcement after he completed his prison sentence. ICE deported him to Mexico in March 2018.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker pardoned Perez in August “to allow a U.S. veteran the opportunity to be treated fairly by the country he served.”

The pardon allowed Perez to enter the country on a two-week permit to attend last week’s hearing where officials agreed to expedite their review of Perez’s citizenship application.

Perez lawfully emigrated to Chicago with his parents from Mexico in 1989 and grew up on the West Side. He joined the Army following the 9/11 attacks and served two tours in Afghanistan in 2002-03. Perez came back home with severe brain trauma and post-traumatic stress disorder.

ICE does not keep an official tally on how many veterans have been deported but advocacy groups say the number could be in the thousands. In June, the Government Accountability Office accused ICE of failing to review many veterans’ service record before deporting them, as required by law.

Friday, Perez said he plans on staying in Chicago — “the greatest city in the world” — spend time with his family, and “continue advocating for those that are left behind.”

Carlos Ballesteros is a corps members ofReport for America,a not-for-profit journalism program that aims to bolster Sun-Times coverage of Chicago’s South Side and West Side.

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