A DECORATED US Marine Corps veteran who fought for his country in Iraq was secretly deported to El Salvador "in the middle of the night", immigration authorities say.
Jose Segovia-Benítez, 38, was "unexpectedly" removed from the US on Wednesday, according to his lawyer.
Jose Segovia-Benítez was secretly deported to El Salvador
The US marine Corps veteran served in Iraq from 1999 to 2004
Texas attorney Roy Petty said he showed up at the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention centre in Florence, Arizona for a planned visit with his client – only to find he was gone.
Petty had planned to go review documents to re-open Segovia-Benitez's deportation case.
But the war veteran was already on his way to El Salvador – a country he left when he was three-years-old.
Petty told the Phoenix New Times: "Certainly, this is a surprise. ICE kept his deportation a secret. They kept it a secret from him, me, his other attorney, and they kept it a secret from his mother.
"It's not common practice. Generally, what ICE will do is they will notify the person so the person can make arrangements. They woke him up and put him on a plane."
Segovia-Benítez served in the Marines from 1999-2004, earning him several medals and accolades for combat.
After returning from Iraq he was diagnosed with PTSD and a traumatic brain injury.
A scheduled deportation for Segovia-Benitez, who had previously spent time in prison for a range of crimes, was halted in process on October 16.
Then, he was pulled off a plane at Phoenix's Sky Harbor Airport and sent to Florence.
Officials said they would hold him there temporarily while lawyers filed documents and California Governor Gavin Newsom considered granting the Long Beach resident a pardon.
They basically snuck him out in the middle of the night
Carlos Luna, president of Green Card Veterans and a supporter of Segovia-Benítez told NBC News: "From my understanding, neither Jose’s attorneys nor the ICE counsel that was assigned to his case in Adelanto were informed that he was being deported.
"So, right now it is unclear who actually ordered his deportation and that’s something we’re trying to find out.
Thomas Sanchez, one of the lawyers assisting with the case, added: “They basically snuck him out in the middle of the night."
After returning from Iraq Segovia Benitez was diagnosed with PTSD and a traumatic brain injury
America's tough deportation process
The US can deport foreign nationals who have committed a crime, are a threat to public safety, or violate their visa.
Those who come to the US without travel documents or with forged documents may be deported quickly without an immigration court hearing under an order of expedited removal.
Others may go before a judge in a longer deportation (removal) process.
The foreign national may be held in a detention centre before trial or deportation and the case will be heard by an immigration court of the US Department Department of Justice (DOJ).
If a judge rules that the deportation proceeds, the receiving country of the person being deported must agree to accept them and issue travel documents before the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) carries out a removal order.
In July Donald Trump announced a new fast-track deportation process that will see illegal migrants kicked out of the US without a judge's approval.
Any migrants who cannot prove they've been in the US continuously for more than two years will be immediately deported.
Previously, only immigrants caught within 100 miles of the Mexican border who had been in the country two weeks or less could be rapidly deported.
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He was processed in a jail in El Salvador before being released, Sanchez said.
While Segovia Benitez previously had legal status, he was ordered to be removed from the country last year after serving several years in prison for drug and domestic violence-related convictions, according to immigration authorities.
His family, advocates and lawyers say that while they do not excuse his past behaviour or violence, Segovia Benitez did not get the treatment he needed for PTSD and brain injury and noted he served both his country and his sentence.