Illinois governor denies clemency to Army veteran with green card who is facing deportation

Cecilia Garcia, left comforts Esperanza Perez, mother of Miguel Perez as she leans on Pastor Luis Retamal of Grace Covenant Church where she is a congregant. Miguel Perez's supporters gathered Thursday, April 13, 2017 to ask for executive clemency for the Army veteran who faces deportation.


By MANYA BRACHEAR PASHMAN | Chicago Tribune | Published: February 8, 2018

CHICAGO (Tribune News Service) — Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner has denied clemency for an Army veteran and green card holder with a felony drug conviction, according to both the man’s lawyer and his mother, who said she got the news in a letter from the governor’s office Wednesday.

Advocates had hoped a pardon from the governor would encourage the government to grant citizenship to Miguel Perez Jr., retroactive to when he joined the military in 2001. His attorney, Chris Bergin, applied for citizenship on Perez’s behalf in July.

That retroactive application for citizenship is the only pathway left for Perez, 39, after a three-judge panel for the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals denied a request for relief under the United Nations Convention against Torture, a protection that resembles asylum. He and human rights advocates believe his life would be in danger if he were sent back to Mexico, where he hasn’t lived since age 8.

Bergin and Perez’s mother, Esperanza Montes Perez, said Rauner turned down the clemency request. Rauner’s office did not respond to questions on the matter.

But in the letter, the office said the family could file a new petition after Jan. 31, 2019. “Although the (Prisoner Review Board) and the governor do not disclose the reasoning behind a decision to grant or deny clemency, please know that we did not make the decision lightly,” the letter said.

Perez is one of many legal permanent residents who have served in the U.S. military, then have had to confront the possibility of deportation to their native countries after committing a crime.

He served two tours in Afghanistan with the Army.

After returning to Chicago following his military service, Perez sought treatment at the Veterans Affairs hospital in Maywood, where doctors diagnosed him with post-traumatic stress disorder. He was supposed to return for more tests to determine whether he also suffered a traumatic brain injury.

In the meantime, he reconnected with a childhood friend who provided free drugs and alcohol. On the night of Nov. 26, 2008, while with that friend, Perez handed a laptop case containing cocaine to an undercover law enforcement officer. Perez pleaded guilty to the drug charge and served half of a 15-year prison sentence.

As is the case with many other green card-holding veterans, Perez, a father of two children who are U.S. citizens, mistakenly thought he became a U.S. citizen when he took an oath to protect the nation. Military superiors never offered to help him expedite his citizenship, he said.

Perez discovered the oversight when he was summoned to immigration court shortly before his release last year from Hill Correctional Center in downstate Galesburg. Instead of heading home to Chicago from prison, Perez was placed in the custody of Immigration and Customs Enforcement and transferred to the Wisconsin detention center for immigrants awaiting deportation.

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