Veteran facing deportation moved into solitary confinement amid ongoing hunger strike

Miguel Perez Sr., center, and his wife, Esperanza, arrive for a hearing for their son Miguel Perez Jr. on Feb. 6, 2017.


By MANYA BRACHEAR PASHMAN AND GREGORY PRATT | The Chicago Tribune (Tribune News Service) | Published: February 24, 2018

A U.S. Army veteran who is in the third week of a hunger strike while he faces deportation has been moved to solitary confinement, prompting criticism from human rights advocates and U.S. Sen. Tammy Duckworth’s office.

Miguel Perez Jr., 39, served two tours in Afghanistan but was later convicted of felony drug charges and has been ordered deported to his native Mexico. While his attorneys and supporters, including Duckworth, work to keep him in the country, Perez has been held at the Kenosha County, Wis., detention center.

One of his supporters, Sara Walker, told the Tribune that Perez was moved into isolation and feels that authorities are violating his religious freedom. She said Perez called and said he was told to pack up his belongings as he was being immediately moved to segregation.

“What Miguel told us is, he was over in Afghanistan defending the country twice, dodging bullets,” Walker said. “He never thought he’d have to fight his home country after defending it twice.”

Mark Malecki, a spokesman for the Kenosha County sheriff’s office, confirmed that Perez has been moved into a “solo cell” as part of “administrative segregation,” but said the move was so his diet can be monitored, not for disciplinary reasons.

Ed Yohnka, spokesman for the ACLU of Illinois, said on Friday that “may be the most callous and unproductive use of solitary confinement” he’d ever heard of.

“You use solitary confinement for somebody disobeying an order or rules that cause harm and jeopardize safety and security in the facility,” Yohnka said. "Someone not eating is not doing that.”

“This is someone who is dealing with an incredibly traumatic situation,” Yohnka added. "He may be about to be separated from everyone he knows and everyone he loves and their solution to that apparently is to separate him from all human contact, which is counterproductive on all kinds of different levels.”

Perez started a liquid fast three weeks ago to protest his deportation as he awaited a ruling regarding a stay of removal filed by his lawyer, Chris Bergin. He was drinking 8-ounce cartons of milk and bottles of Gatorade each day to balance medications for post-traumatic stress disorder.

Duckworth, who filed a bill earlier this month requesting relief for Perez, has not been able to get any information from the Kenosha Detention Center or the Chicago offices of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, according to Kiera Ellis, a spokeswoman for the senator.

Ellis said the senator wants to know how this is possible “legally, ethically and civically.”

“It’s not transparent,” she said.

Tara Tidwell Cullen, director of communications for the National Immigrant Justice Center of Heartland Alliance, said solitary confinement is one of many human rights concerns in detention centers across the country.

"This is a pretty frequent punitive response to hunger strikes — to place people in solitary confinement,” she said.

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A photo of Miguel Perez Jr. when he was in the Army.

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