After spending the past year and a half in Mexico, deported Army veteran and Chicago resident Miguel Perez has returned to the United States.
Last year, Perez was deported after serving seven years in prison for a drug conviction.
But in August, Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker granted Perez clemency, allowing him to return to Chicago on a temporary parole to meet with immigration officials.
“I’m pretty much in shock, still,” Perez said. “When I was on the plane … it felt great, but it was not until I was actually in the car, driving with my mom from O’Hare towards the city that I was like ‘Ah! I’m really home.’”
Perez came to the U.S. from Mexico as a child, and served in Afghanistan in the early 2000s. He was later diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder.
Perez returned to Chicago on Tuesday to meet with immigration officials, and is now waiting to hear what will happen next.
“I really don’t know everything that’s coming on, or anything else – I have no idea. They just told me to hold on and wait,” he said.
After joining the Army in 2002, Perez was deployed to Afghanistan twice, where a brain injury he sustained led to his diagnosis of PTSD.
Perez says he still suffers from symptoms of the disorder, and that it got worse while he was in Mexico.
“It turned into a very intense insomnia, and it would go three to four days without having not even two minutes of sleep. I would lay down and do my best to go to sleep, and it was pretty much impossible. And when I would lay down, I would be soaking wet, sweating and I didn’t even know where all this sweat was coming from,” he said.
In 2008, Perez was accused of giving cocaine to an undercover police office, according to the Associated Press. After serving half of a 15-year sentence, he was deported in March 2018.
Perez was originally supposed to arrive back in Chicago earlier this month, but says he was delayed at the border.
“I had an appointment for Sept. 3, an immigration hearing, but they wouldn’t let me in. [U.S. Customs and Immigration Services] gives me an appointment, but then border patrol [didn’t] let me in. So it was just crazy, but at least we figured it out now, and I’m here,” he said.