Miguel Perez Jr., a 39-year-old Chicago resident, mistakenly thought he became a citizen when he joined the military in 2001. But the green card holder was wrong about that and the veteran who has served two tours in Afghanistan and has two children who are U.S. citizens is likely to face deportation due to a felony drug conviction. He started a hunger strike this week as a form of protest after a court denied his appeal to remain in the United States, where he has lived since he was 8 years old.
“If it comes down to me being deported, I would rather leave this world in the country I gave my heart for,” Perez said in an interview with the Chicago Tribune from the detention center where he has been held for the past year.
Perez had been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder but he was never able to get the treatment he needed because in the meantime he started hanging out with a childhood friend who apparently had lots of access to drugs and alcohol. Next thing he knew, Perez was pleading guilty to a drug charge and served half of a 15-year prison sentence.
Perez says his life will be in danger in Mexico because drug cartels target veterans with combat experience and force them to work.
“It’s not what I think would happen to me. It’s what I know,” Perez told a judge last year. “It’s not like I can … fit in and blend in. It just doesn’t work that way. How long can I hide the fact I’ve been deported and I was in the military?” Perez told the judge it’d be difficult for him to stay incognito considering he’s got three tattoos that immediately identify him as a veteran of the U.S. military: the Statue of Liberty, a battle cross to honor a fallen soldier and the insignia of the U.S. Army Special Forces, “To liberate the oppressed.”
Carlos Luna, founder and president of a green card veteran chapter of the League of Latin American Citizens (LULAC), expressed concern about Perez’s hunger strike considering his delicate mental and physical health. “It’s pretty ridiculous that a veteran has to go on a hunger strike just to be able to stay,” Luna said. “Just last night our president was talking about uniting the country and the reverence for veterans.”