An Army veteran facing deportation after serving seven years in prison for a drug conviction told a federal judge Monday he fears drug cartels in Mexico could kidnap him and hold him for ransom.
Miguel Angel Perez-Montes, 38, of Mexico, grew up in Chicago. He was convicted in February 2010 for manufacture/delivery of more than two pounds of cocaine and sentenced to 15 years in the Illinois Department of Corrections, according to the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). In 2012, Perez-Montes was placed into “removal proceeds” by ICE while serving his prison sentence. He has remained in ICE custody since Sept. 23 of 2016 while deportation proceedings are pending in federal immigration court.
The judge is expected to issue a written decision in the next few weeks.
Perez-Montes’s family, including his, 9-year-old niece, Mary Marshall, says they had hoped he would be released Monday.
“I’m him just to come home,” she said. “I want to spend time with him.”
Perez-Montes appeared in court via tele-video Monday but no decision on his deportation was made.
His sister says she prays every day her brother will not be sent back to Mexico.
“We were really nervous coming in here—still nervous,” she said. “We wanted my brother here for Christmas but we have another opportunity to make it happen.
The veteran’s attorney, family members and men in military uniforms answered questions and made statements following the hearing.
In a statement, ICE, which is part of the Department of Homeland Security, said it respects the service and sacrifice of military veterans.
“Any action taken by ICE that may result in the removal of an alien with military service must be authorized by the senior leadership in a field office, following an evaluation by local counsel,” the agency said. “ICE exercises prosecutorial discretion, when appropriate, on a case-by-case basis for members of the armed forces who have honorably served our country. ICE specifically identifies service in the U.S. military as a positive factor that should be considered when deciding whether or not prosecutorial discretion should be exercised.”
At 8 years old, Perez-Montes came to the United States from Mexico with his family but never became a U.S. citizen—even after joining the military and serving two tours of duty in Afghanistan.
Perez-Montes' attorney, Chris Bergin, says if his client is sent back to Mexico he could be targeted by the vicious drug cartels there.
“They know you’ve got weapons training, military training, strategic training, you have ins with people in the United States, you’re going to work for us,” he said.
Perez-Montes is due back in court on Feb. 6.