Serving in the US military is an honor for many individuals, like Miguel Perez Jr. The Mexican native immigrated to the US at age eight. Since then, he became a legal permanent resident and served in the US Army. But he mistakenly thought he became an American after serving two tours in Afghanistan.

Now, the 38-year-old will be deported after spending seven years in prison for a felony drug offense.

After enlisting in the Army in 2001 and serving two tours with US Special Forces, Perez struggled to re-adjust back into society.

He was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder and went to a VA hospital for treatment, Perez told the Chicago Tribune. He grew impatient while doctors tried to determine if he had a traumatic brain injury, and he spent time with an old friend who gave him drugs and alcohol.

Perez was with this particular friend when he handed an undercover officer a laptop case of cocaine in November 2008. The veteran pleaded guilty and served his time at Hill Correctional Center in Illinois. 

Despite being in prison, Perez earned an associate's degree, went to therapy, started taking medication to regulate his anxiety, and helped other inmates get their GEDs as a teacher's aide.

Police vest
photo: Getty Images

His time in prison gave him time to plan his future when he would return home to his family in Chicago, where he grew up. But these plans were shattered when he was told he was facing deportation months before his release. Perez had failed to apply for expedited citizenship and became a target for ICE after his felony conviction.

A Chicago immigration judge ruled last week for Perez to be deported, according to ABC7.

“The sweat, tears, and sometimes blood we shed for this country makes us American as anyone born here,” Perez told the Chicago Tribune. He is now in ICE custody.

But Perez isn’t leaving without a fight. His attorney, Chris Bergin, has already appealed the judge’s ruling and asked for help from local senators. The goal is for Perez to receive retroactive citizenship.

“All they have to … say, ‘We’re going to approve your citizenship from 2002 when you went to Afghanistan,’” Bergin told CBS2. “If they do that, then … he committed a crime later, he served his time in the regular criminal jail and he’s not deportable.”

Bergin argued:

“He should have been made a US citizen automatically by the people that wanted him to possibly die for them, but I guess it slipped their minds.”