Miguel Perez-Montes

Soldier, Deportee, U.S. Citizen

“Estoy muy feliz!” (I am very happy.) My battle is over and it should never have happened. This is not an excuse but at the time, I was suffering from anxiety after coming back from the war. There were not enough resources for help and I fell into drinking and drugs. Still, they (U.S. government) can say they did it all right but morally it is not right to deport veterans. When you swear to protect this country and you commit mistakes and serve the penalty in full, it is not right to run you off from the country for 20 to 30 years. It should be automatic for a soldier to become a U.S. citizen and have protections from being deported from here forward. The law must be changed."~Miguel Perez-Montes, Address to League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC), 2019

Born in Mexico in 1979, Miguel Perez-Montes immigrated to the United States with his family when he was eight years old. After growing up in Chicago as a permanent resident (Green Card holder) since the age of 11,  he enlisted in the United States Army in 2001, shortly before September 11. He served two tours of duty in Afghanistan as a paratrooper and private first class. 

He began suffering from post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) after suffering a traumatic brain injury in Afghanistan when a grenade was detonated near a vehicle he was repairing. He was discharged honorably from the Army in 2004. 

Between 2004 and 2010, Perez-Montes suffered from his disability and turned to drugs and alcohol rather than connecting with the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) for a diagnosis and treatment. In 2010, he became the target of a sting operation and was convicted of delivering cocaine to an undercover officer. This felony conviction resulted in a denial of a petition for citizenship, and Perez-Montes was sentenced to 15 years in prison subject to deportation. Deportation proceedings were started in 2012, and Perez-Montes was transferred to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) custody in 2016. Then, in 2018, he was deported to Mexico. ICE officers drove him from Illinois to Texas and then escorted him across the border without informing his family. 

In Tijuana, Mexico, deported veterans are often targeted by drug cartels who seek them out due to their military training and threaten their lives if they refuse to get involved. Perez-Montes's family appealed to Illinois senator Tammy Duckworth who, along with civil rights groups, including the United Latin American Citizens (LULAC), used his case to raise awareness about the plight of deported veterans. Ultimately, in September 2019, Illinois governor J.B. Pritzker commuted his sentence and allowed him to the return to the United States for a citizenship hearing. On Friday, October 4, 2019, Miguel Perez-Montes became a U.S. citizen. 

Since then, he has been speaking publicly about his experiences saying:

"This experience changed my life. I learned a lot from all the pain and the injustice but I am not alone. This is an epidemic that is happening to U.S. veterans from all around the world and it’s wrong. They took me away from my whole family and just threw me away. Everything in my life was upset.

To all the veterans, don’t fear. Keep going. We were soldiers and will always be soldiers. All this will end. There will be a positive outcome. Stay strong."