June 20, 2007
U.S. citizen deported, now missing in Mexico
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: