JB Pritzker grants clemency to deported combat veteran Miguel Perez

By Kallie Cox, News Editor

Illinois Governor JB. Pritzker granted clemency to combat veteran Miguel Perez Jr. on Friday, Aug. 30, according to a release from the Office of the Governor.

Perez served two tours in Afghanistan as a Special Forces Mechanic before being injured in an explosion and suffering a traumatic brain injury and PTSD.

“In evaluating this request for clemency, I recognize this pardon is not a perfect solution, but it is the most just action to take to allow a U.S. veteran the opportunity to be treated fairly by the country he served,” Pritzker said.

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Perez came to the U.S. as a child and, according to the release, was a legal resident whose service in the armed forces was supposed to provide him an expedited path to citizenship under a 2002 Executive Order by President George W. Bush  but due to an oversight, he was not afforded that opportunity.

Perez was convicted of a non-violent, drug related offense and served seven and a half years in prison. He was released from Hill correctional facility in 2016 and appeared before the Illinois Prisoner Review Board.

According to the release, the board recommended granting Perez clemency but former Governor Bruce Rauner declined the petition. Perez was then deported in 2018 without prior contact with his family, including his two children and parents, who still reside in Illinois.

“Miguel Perez should not have been deported. The bigoted immigration policy of President Trump and failed leadership of former Governor Rauner have caused unfortunate circumstances for a U.S. veteran who served two tours in Afghanistan,” Pritzker said. 

Senator Tammy Duckworth, a veteran and Democratic Senator representing Illinois, introduced a bill in Feb. 2018 to help Perez remain in the U.S. 

According to a release sent out by her office, Duckworth wrote letters of support for Perez’s citizenship application and a letter to former U.S. Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielson to review Perez’s case.

“Miguel Perez’s own life demonstrates why our nation should never give up on our combat Veterans, even during tough times,” Duckworth said. “During his time in prison, Mr. Perez finally received the mental health treatment he so desperately needed as a Veteran returning from war and took great strides to reform his life.”

The Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights made a statement applauding Pritzker’s decision to pardon Perez.

“Mr. Perez’s deportation highlights the issues within our overly punitive criminal justice system and broken immigration system,” said Lawrence Benito, ICIRR’s executive director. “Both systems criminalize, incarcerate, and exile people of color in our communities.”

Benito said we need to reimagine and reform both systems for a more equitable tomorrow. 

“Today we celebrate the Governor’s decision to reject the notion that Mr. Perez’s country of birth justifies his exile from his home and family because he committed a low-level, trauma-induced crime,” Benito said. “His country turned its back on  him after he served and suffered from the scars of war. The Governor took a step to right this wrong. We hope that Mr. Perez will be able to return to Illinois and the country he proudly served.”

In a phone interview with NBC Chicago, Perez said there are no words to describe how the pardon makes him feel. 

“I’ve been crying, and I’ve been laughing,” Perez said. 

Perez is now set to return to his family in the U.S. and to be evaluated for citizenship.

News Editor Kallie Cox can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter at @KallieECox.

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