Yesterday, Chris Bergin, lead immigration attorney at Shiller Preyar Law Offices (SPLO), was back in immigration appeals court fighting to save a United States Army veteran from deportation. A decision will be issued in the next few months about whether Miguel Angel Perez-Montes can stay under the United Nations Convention against Torture (CAT).
Mr. Perez-Montes’ case has made headlines in 2017, garnering support from activists, members of congress, and across social media. The current appeal is just one aspect of SPLO’s strategy for Mr. Perez-Montes. Bergin has also filed a petition for clemency to forgive Mr. Perez-Montes of a 2008 drug charge, and petitioned the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services to retroactively grant Mr. Perez-Montes citizenship to when he joined the Army in 2001.
Mr. Perez-Montes, who is now detained in a Wisconsin prison, spent most of his life in Chicago, before his two tours in Afghanistan. In 2002, President George W. Bush signed an executive order to expedite the process for noncitizens who served in the Armed Forces on or after Sept. 11, 2001. But no one in the Army ever spoke to Mr. Perez-Montes about these rules, or how to apply—in the midst of combat he assumed the law meant he was a citizen, or at least naturalized.
After returning to the United States Mr. Perez was diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Like too many other veterans who have also been diagnosed with PTSD, Mr. Perez turned to self medicating with drugs and alcohol. In 2008 he was involved in a drug deal orchestrated by a friend who had been under investigation by the Chicago Police for months.
Mr. Perez spent six years in prison for the drug offense, during which time he joined Alcoholics Anonymous, obtained his associate’s degree magna cum laude from Lakeland College, got psychiatric help to help with his PTSD symptoms, and was a Teacher’s Assistant for computer classes. He said he attended every class and group they offered on anxiety and depression, substance abuse, and parenting; and he began going to church regularly.
Mr. Perez-Montes is so dedicated to his reformation that U.S. Senator Tammy Duckworth, Illinois State Senator Iris Martinez, and Illinois State House Representative Cynthia Soto have written him letters of commendation for his service and rehabilitation. His doctor has submitted a letter testifying that Mr. Perez-Montes’ decisions leading up to his arrest were a product of his PTSD.
When he was released from his Illinois State prison sentence in 2016 Mr. Perez-Montes was taken into ICE custody. He was bounced between Wisconsin detention centers, and wasn’t able to see a psychiatrist or receive his medication for weeks.
In March 2017, then-U.S. Representative Luis Gutierrez risked arrest for Mr. Perez-Montes when he led a sit-in at Immigrations Customs Enforcement (ICE). Gutierrez and a small group came to meet with the director of the ICE field office in Chicago and refused to leave when their demands regarding Mr. Perez-Montes and two other SPLO clients were dismissed.
The current appeal is in response to a July 2017 final deportation notice issued by an immigration judge. The judge said that Mr. Perez was not eligible for relief under CAT, citing a lack of proof that Miguel faced “substantive risk” of torture or death upon relocation to Mexico.
The courts are asking for a recklessly high burden of proof of the danger facing Mr. Perez-Montes in Mexico. Human rights are not a mathematical equation. Credible reports from human rights organizations show that deported U.S. veterans are targeted by drug cartels for their special skills. Those that don’t comply are killed.
In addition to legislators and clergy, Mr. Perez-Montes has received support across social media, with veterans advocacy groups working with SPLO to encourage followers to lift up Mr. Perez-Montes’ story and send him Christmas cards.
SPLO is committed to creative approaches to keep our clients safe and their families in tact. Bergin and the rest of the immigration team will not back down until Mr. Perez-Montes can live free, with his family, without fear of deportation.