CHICAGO (WLS) -- Governor JB Pritzker pardoned Miguel Perez Jr. Friday. The 39-year-old veteran of the war in Afghanistan, was denied clemency by former governor Bruce Rauner and deported to Mexico after serving seven and a half years in prison for a non-violent drug offense.
Friday Governor Pritzker granted Perez a pardon.
"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. "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."
Perez's family, including two children and parents, live in Illinois and are U.S. citizens. It was not immediately clear if and when Perez would return to the United States.
"This gives us hope that we're closer to ever than bringing him home," said Emma Lozano, pastor and activist.
"Sometimes I very angry," said Esperanza Perez, mother. "Say, 'God, you know, but when? When? I know it's not my time, it's your time, but when?'"
Speaking to ABC7 Eyewitness News on the phone from Mexico, the relief was apparent in Perez's voice.
"There's no words to explain... no words," he said.
Perez was born in Mexico and came to Chicago legally as a child. He joined the Army in 2002 and served two tours in Afghanistan as a Special Forces Mechanic. During that time he suffered a traumatic brain injury in an explosion, and returned to the States with PTSD.
As a legal resident who served in the military, Perez was supposed to given an expedited path to citizenship under a 2002 executive order by President George W. Bush but due an oversight, he was not given that opportunity.
His PTSD led to self-medication with drugs and alcohol, his family said. As a result, Perez was convicted of a non-violent drug offense in 2008 and sentenced to 15 years in prison. He served seven and a half years and was taken into custody by ICE upon his release. He petitioned then-governor Bruce Rauner for clemency, and the Illinois Prisoner Review Board recommended it, but the governor denied his petition.
After he exhausted almost all legal avenues, ICE moved to deport Perez without allowing his parents to give him clothes, money or medication.
"My client has worked tirelessly to address his PTSD and now has the opportunity to continue his life in a positive manner," said attorney Chris Bergin. "Today, the first ray of light has been shone on Miguel's path back to the country he served."
Pritzker's pardon means Perez is no longer a convicted drug felon in Illinois. His attorney said Perez has an appointment on September 3 in Chicago for an immigration appeal, and said they are exploring several avenues to get him home. His attorney said his case is now "all in the hands of Homeland Security."
Perez was deported to Mexico in March 2018. ABC76 Eyewitness News spoke to him after his deportation.
"'You see those two green arrows? That's Mexico, go ask them for help. Go talk to them,'" Perez said he was told. "Turned around, and walked off."
"They put him on a bridge on a walkway to Mexico in his prison clothes with a plastic bag of some of his stuff. That's what they do to a decorated military veteran," Bergin said.
Since then, Perez said he's lived a second sentence.
"I wouldn't want to compare it to being a prisoner of war, but it's something like it," he said. "Being away from my family and everything that I love, my community, my home, is like being trapped in a foreign place."
While Pritzker was able to wipe the slate clean on Perez's state criminal record, his return to Chicago, the place he knows as home, is a long way from certain.