June 20, 2007

U.S. citizen deported, now missing in Mexico

Posted in Civil rights, News at 4:14 pm by The Lizard Queen

This story makes me so angry I almost can’t talk about it. A developmentally disabled man was arrested for trespassing, deported, and has now been missing for over a month. From the above-linked ACLU news release:

LOS ANGELES — Federal immigration officers and the L.A. County Sheriff’s Department illegally deported a U.S. citizen last month, the ACLU/SC has learned. He is missing in Mexico, and today the ACLU/SC and the law firm of Van Der Hout, Brigagliano & Nightingale file a lawsuit in U.S. District Court seeking his safe return.

Pedro Guzman, 29, was born in Los Angeles and raised in Lancaster, California. He was serving time at Men’s Central Jail for trespassing, a misdemeanor offense, when he was deported to Tijuana May 10 or 11. Mr. Guzman is developmentally disabled, does not read or write English well, and knows no one in Tijuana. He declared at his booking that he was born in California.

He spoke to his sister-in-law by telephone from a shelter in Tijuana within a day of his deportation, but the call was interrupted. Family members traveled to the city in an attempt to find him and have remained there, searching shelters, jails, churches, hospitals, and morgues.

The other side of the story (from the AP):

Sheriff’s spokesman Steve Whitmore said the department followed procedures correctly.

“My understanding is that this individual said he was a Mexican national and was in the country illegally when we interviewed him,” Whitmore said. “We turn that information over to immigration officials, who then re-interview him.”

Immigration and Customs Enforcement confirmed he had been deported and said the agency had done so correctly.

“ICE only processes persons for removal when all available credible evidence suggests the person is an alien,” read a statement. “That process was followed here and ICE has no reason to believe that it improperly removed Pedro Guzman.” An agency spokeswoman declined to comment further because the lawsuit was pending.

The only conclusion I can come to is that someone in ICE fucked up, because a) Guzman’s birth certificate shows “he was born at Los Angeles County-USC Medical Center,” and b) he “had previously done jail time for drug possession, so he had a record that could have been cross-checked before a deportation decision was made” (both quotes are from the AP article and came from the ACLU).

But maybe “fucked up” is too harsh. Maybe it was just a misunderstanding of horrifying proportions. Maybe Guzman really did identify himself as an undocumented immigrant (reminds me of my high school chemistry teacher who, near the beginnings of tests, would say, “okay, raise your hand if you’re cheating” — people who answered in the affirmative didn’t actually mean it; they were just being smart-asses). Maybe the person or people with whom Guzman spoke found themselves unable to communicate with someone exhibiting a developmental disability and/or poor English skills (which suggests to me that people at the ICE are poorly trained for dealing with the public). But still, is it really so difficult to check up on such a claim? Wouldn’t it be better to be 100% sure you’re dealing with an undocumented immigrant before you remove a person from this country and drop him off in another? Of course, it seems safe to say that the officials were 100% sure — they just also happened to be wrong (emphasis added):

The government admitted in court last Wednesday that Guzman is a U.S. citizen, which it had previously disputed. The judge asked that a “lookout,” or missing persons report, sent to U.S. ports of entry and the U.S. consulate in Tijuana state that he is a citizen and mention his disability.

Furthermore, the U.S. consulate in Mexico has made some calls, which they apparently feel is going above and beyond the call of duty:

Officials at the U.S. consulate in Tijuana say they have made calls to help search for Guzman and asked other consulates in Mexico if they have information.

“We are doing what does not correspond to us,” said consulate spokeswoman Lorena Blanco.

Maybe I’d have more sympathy if I hadn’t put more effort into finding my cat. I should think that a good step toward making amends for deporting a U.S. citizen might be putting some extra effort into finding the poor man (who officials are now trying to say isn’t actually disabled, to which I can only say *snark* and move on), but… not so much, apparently:

The ACLU of Southern California and law firm Van Der Hout, Brigagliano & Nightingale have asked that government agents assist in the search and request help from Mexican authorities, two steps the U.S. has so far refused to take. . . .

While the U.S. government has not actively joined the search, the Salvation Army has offered volunteers to assist the family. “The Salvation Army has done more for my family than the U.S. government,” Pedro Guzman’s younger brother Michael Guzman told reporters last week.

It’s nice to hear that someone is helping them, at any rate. I hope we’ll hear some good news soon; if not, if we get bad news instead, then what will it say about our country’s current attitude toward immigrants that they deported and ultimately caused the death of a U.S. citizen?

Coverage by other blogs:



  1. DavidD said,

    My personal reaction to this story is that whenever they get that chip to implant in my forearm saying I’m a citizen, what my meds are and whatever else, it’s fine with me.

    My broader reaction is that this is far removed from those who want English to be the only language they see and everyone in the US to have their proper papers. Like bailing water out of a leaky boat, some here have the job of returning illegals to Mexico, knowing that they’ll likely come back again, so why am I doing this stupid job for a salary that barely pays my bills? I don’t think I’ve known anyone firsthand who has that job, but I’ve known a lot of people who thought their job was pointless, without paying enough for their income to be the point, so I think it’s easy to imagine the attitude that if some guy wants to say he’s Mexican, no one is going to dig that hard to see if the guy understood the implications of why he was being asked that question.

    I vaguely remember stories of other citizens getting caught up in sweeps of illegals, at least detained here if not deported, maybe some firsthand stories among my clients. Of course they weren’t damsels in distress or child-like adults in distress, so they didn’t make the news. Maybe they were news enough to me, though, to contribute to my opinion that the regulation of who can live in the US is such a waste. I would think most of that opinion relates to how illegals are here to work and support their families, not to commit crimes or abuse social services, contrary to anti-immigrant propaganda. As with most opinions, I have many reasons for this one.

    That someone had it out for Pedro Guzman is not one of those reasons. I don’t think anyone who had anything to do with his trip to Tijuana had it out for him. OK, it turns out he’s a citizen. So we citizens should be inviolate against being mistaken for an illegal? Right, like we’re inviolate against being mistaken for a criminal in general? No, we’re not. The US Constitution guarantees due process, not process free of mistakes. Due process means people then try to fix mistakes. Does anyone thank them? No, instead there’s all this abstraction about how in a perfect world, there would be no mistakes.

    I’ve purposely avoided watching or reading much about that woman who died at Drew Medical Center in LA with someone calling 911 to get help inside the hospital. I worked at a city hospital. I know what it’s like. Not only do mistakes happen, but big mistakes happen. There’s all sorts of incompetence. There are all sorts of bad attitudes. And there are all sorts of patients who can’t demand better. So something bad will happen, and all sorts of outrage will be directed at the little people who are just trying to do their job, maybe not well, but as best as they can under the circumstances.

    Then the news will switch to something else, and the question will remain of how to run health care for the poor without enough money to make it run well. Those workers at Drew Medical Center aren’t responsible for that, and the workers who sent Pedro Guzman to Tijuana aren’t responsible for the overall directive that illegals be returned in wholesale fashion across the border to Mexico. It’s easier to design nets that dolphins can escape than ones that all citizens can escape, unless the whole system is slowed to the point where no one can even imagine that they’re bailing water any more.

    I don’t think American voters are going to say it’s OK to let illegals stay here. I would. The Green Party candidate for governor here last fall said exactly this. So I voted for him. Few people did. Nor will American voters say we can spend however much of their money we want to make health care effective and pleasant for those of us who need it. So what compromises are people willing to make? That’s the question. There’s a place for anger in that, to say it’s going too far to have 47 million Americans without any health insurance, not even Medicaid, to say it’s going too far to propose a system where familes with children born here, but parents here illegally have to be broken up to satisfy someone’s arbitrary sense of boundaries.

    But I don’t think being angry at workers makes any sense. Workers screw up. I pity a worker whose job depends on his or her never screwing up. Not only are you guaranteed to lose your job then, but there will be all these people who say you’re scum at the same time, all these people who have their needs met, some of them in TV studios who are very well off. None of that fixes anything.

  2. Penny said,

    I don’t think it’s reasonable to say that it’s all just a matter of “workers screw up,” if the consequences of those screw ups have a pattern of falling more heavily on people with Spanish surnames, or disabled people, etc. etc. That’s not just random screwing up, that’s putting less effort into protecting the rights of some citizens than others.

  3. My point in saying that someone screwed up was not to point a finger at one particular person. That doesn’t solve anything, and indeed, the person who ultimately put ink to paper was probably overworked and underpaid, and pointing fingers doesn’t get at the underlying cause. My anger is actually directed at the system that made this possible, and the current national attitude toward immigrants and the American-born children of immigrants (while researching this post I came across a thread at fark.com in which more than one person expressed irritation that children born on U.S. soil are U.S. citizens, regardless of the citizenship status of their parents), minorities, and the disabled. The fact that a U.S. citizen got deported is not acceptable, and that makes me angry. That anger is directed at all the problems in the system as a whole that made such a thing possible, at the politicians who dehumanize immigrants with their rhetoric, and people who make the kinds of racist and ableist comments I saw on fark (though perhaps to a lesser extent, because I suspect at least some of those were made more for shock value than because they’re what the commenters actually believe).

  4. […] in Civil rights, News at 9:06 pm by The Lizard Queen I blogged about this back in June: Pedro Guzman, a mentally disabled U.S. citizen, was deported and, at the point at which I wrote […]

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