Deported Illinois Army veteran officially becomes US citizen, allowed to stay in Chicago

CHICAGO (WLS) -- A U.S. Army veteran who was fighting to stay in the country after being deported to Mexico has officially become an American citizen.

Miguel Perez Jr., a 39-year-old veteran who served in Afghanistan, was sworn in at a sudden and personal naturalization ceremony in Chicago on Friday. Perez had recently returned to Chicago on a two-week permit to attend a citizenship hearing.

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"It took a whole lot of work and a whole lot of praying," he said Friday afternoon. "Here it is. It's official."

Perez was deported to Mexico roughly 18 months ago. His deportation followed a more than 7-year sentence in prison on a drug conviction.

His green card status was revoked and he went from state prison into the custody of immigration officials.

After he was deported, Perez lived along the U.S.-Mexico border. But he has said that Chicago is his home.

"Just two months ago all of this seemed impossible," Perez said. "I was in Tijuana wondering about my future."

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In August, Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker pardoned Perez, allowing him to appeal his case and return home to his parents and two children.

Perez served in the U.S. Army Special Forces and was deployed to Afghanistan twice in the wake of the 9/11 attacks. He returned with severe post-traumatic stress disorder, which he said led to a drug addiction.

"It's just unbelievably that the United States would deport somebody who went to war to defend this country," said supporter Sara Walker.

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Perez said he's been waiting for years for this day, and so has his family. In an 11th hour approval, Perez took the oath he's waited his whole life for.

"It was just something that came from the heart and naturally," he said. "It's always been here. I always said I fought for the country, I fought for the flag, and I fought for the Constitution, and today the Constitution responded by saying 'Welcome home.'"

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Perez said he plans to focus on his mental health. He also thanked all of the politicians who he said helped him in this legal fight.

U.S. Sen. Tammy Duckworth released a statement congratulating Perez on Friday.

"I am so proud to finally be able to call Miguel Perez a fellow American," Duckworth said. "He sacrificed for our nation by serving overseas and, while this is long overdue, I'm glad Miguel can now breathe a sigh of relief and celebrate becoming a citizen of the country he loves and considers home."

Perez said he plans to celebrate by bowling with his family.

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