CNN  — 

Miguel Perez Jr. discovered that two tours of duty in Afghanistan with the US Army and an accompanying case of PTSD are no shield from US immigration laws.

Because of a 2010 drug conviction, Perez, 39, sits in an US Immigration and Customs Enforcement detention center in Kenosha, Wisconsin, awaiting possible deportation to Mexico – a country he left more than three decades ago. Many are rallying around Perez’s case as an example of what they say is the US’s desperately broken immigration policy.

There are serious factors working against Perez: He was convicted on a felony drug charge and discharged from the Army for drug use; military service is no guarantee of citizenship; and he never applied for citizenship, despite being eligible to apply in 1994.

He said he fears deportation would do more than separate him from his family in the United States, including his two children born here. He thinks it could kill him.

The substance-abuse and mental-health counseling he desperately needs would not be readily available in Mexico, he said. He also predicts that drug cartels would recruit him because of his combat experience and murder him if he didn’t cooperate.

So he started a hunger strike Wednesday, not long after his latest setback in federal court.

“If they are sentencing me to a certain death, and I am going to die, then why die in a place that I have not considered my home in a long time?” he asked.

“There is a saying that goes, ‘I’d rather die like a man than live like a coward.’ In Mexico, I will have to live in fear, like a coward. No. I’d rather die right here, like a man fighting against something that makes no sense – this thing of deporting veterans does not make sense even if they try to justify with the law.”

Though US Citizenship and Immigration Services has provisions for expediting troops’ naturalization process, a chief requirement is that the applicant must demonstrate “good moral character.”

Veterans not immune from deportation

Perez is not the first veteran of the US military to face deportation.