The call Army veteran Miguel Perez had been waiting years for came Friday. It was from immigration officials who phoned his attorney so see how quickly Perez could come to downtown Chicago to take his oath to become a US citizen.
Just two months ago, Perez doubted this day would ever come. He had been stripped of his green card and deported to Mexico, despite his military service that included deployments to Afghanistan.
But his history also included a felony drug conviction in Illinois and a prison term of more than seven years.
He was sent back to Mexico, the country he left when he was 8 when his family came to the United States so his father could pursue a soccer career.
Things changed two months ago when Illinois Gov. J. B. Pritzker granted Perez clemency for his conviction. Attorney Chris Bergin and Perez took it as a new argument for Perez’s citizenship.
Last month, US officials allowed Perez to come to Chicago to make his case, which was supported by US Sen. Tammy Duckworth, an Illinois Democrat who served in Iraq with the Illinois Army National Guard.
At noon Friday, Bergin got the call from US Citizenship and Immigration Services who wanted to know when they could have a ceremony.
“I said we’ll be there right away,” Bergin said.
Perez didn’t believe Bergin at first.
“I was like no way. Seriously? He was like, ‘Yeah, it’s official,’ ” Perez said.
He still was skeptical it was really happening until they had him raise his right hand, swear an oath and gave him a paper affirming his citizenship. A Facebook video from Green Card Veterans shows Perez completing his oath, then turn to the US flag and salute.
“It’s been a long … a long journey, a long battle,” Perez said.
Duckworth sent her best wishes.
“I am so proud to finally be able to call Miguel Perez a fellow American,” she said. “He sacrificed for our nation by serving overseas and, while this is long overdue, I’m glad Miguel can now breathe a sigh of relief and celebrate becoming a citizen of the country he loves and considers home.”
Perez said the most important thing now was to take care of his mental health.
Perez has said the stress of two deployments to Afghanistan – one in 2002 and the other in 2003 – caused post traumatic stress disorder, which led to his drug addiction.
He ultimately was convicted for delivering more than two pounds of cocaine to an undercover officer in 2008. He pleaded guilty and was sentenced in 2010. He served a prison sentence and then was turned over to immigration officials in 2016. He was deported in 2018.
Now that he is back in the United States, he can work with Veterans Affairs to get treatment.
“I get to take care of my health, first and foremost,” he said. He was at a hospital Friday when he got the news about his citizenship.
He also wants to spend time with his family – his two children and parents are citizens – and advocate on behalf of other veterans who have been deported.
When asked what he’ll be doing on his first day as a US citizen, Perez said he will be spending time with his son and going bowling.
CNN’s Maria Santana contributed to this report.