Segovia-Benitez, 38, came to the US as a toddler and grew up in California. He joined the Marines right out of high school, NBC News reports. He was honorably discharged in 2004, a year after he suffered a brain injury that left him with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD.)
"He is a soldier who put his life on the line to defend his country," his mother, Martha Garcia, told NBC News. "But when he returned from the war, he came back with problems."
Segovia-Benitez wasn't diagnosed with PTSD until 2011, according to Brandee Dudzic, the executive director of Repatriate our Patriots. In the interim, his family said, he turned to alcohol and committed a series of crimes including injuring a spouse, for which he served an eight-year jail sentence, and narcotics possession.
Segovia-Benitez was initially scheduled for deportation on October 16, The Phoenix New Times reported. Segovia-Benitez had boarded a plane bound for El Salvador, but was pulled off and sent to Arizona's Florence Correctional Center to await a potential pardon from California Governor Gavin Newsom.
But when Segovia-Benitez's attorney Roy Petty arrived at the facility on Wednesday for a scheduled visit to fill out paperwork so he could re-open his deportation case, his client was gone.
"Certainly, this is a surprise," Petty told the Phoenix New Times. "ICE [Immigration and Customs Enforcement] 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," he said.
While it's not illegal for ICE to proceed with the deportation, "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," Petty said.
After serving his jail sentence, Segovia-Benitez was held in an ICE detention facility for nearly two years. He and 14 others filed a lawsuit in August alleging they were subjected to horrific and "inhumane" conditions during their detention, NBC News reports.
Segovia-Benitez is currently in a jail in El Salvador as part of his deportation proceedings. In El Salvador, a notoriously violent and dangerous country, Segovia-Benitez's attorney worries that his veteran status might make him a target for gangs.
"Gangs target former U.S. military," Petty told the Phoenix New Times. "They'll kidnap a person, they may hold a person for ransom, they may torture an individual."
Segovia-Benitez, who previously had legal status, filed an appeal of his deportation and two stays after a judge ordered that he should be deported in October 2018, all of which were denied, a spokesperson for ICE told The Hill.