Pedro Guzman, the 29-year-old developmentally disabled man—and U.S. citizen— who was wrongly deported from the LA County jail to Mexico in May of this year, turned up this past Sunday when he tried to cross back into the U.S. at Calexico.
In case you’ve forgotten, here are the basics of the story: In April of this year, Guzman was sentenced to 120 days in jail for trespassing and vandalism. It seems that, in a bizarre serious of actions, Guzman walked out on the runway at the Fox Field Airport in Lancaster, and tried repeatedly to get on a private plane as it prepared for takeoff. Then when he couldn’t get on, he found a stranger’s truck, and sat inside the cab until he was arrested.
Although sentenced to 120 days, Guzman was only scheduled to spend 40 days in LA’s overcrowded jail system, yet he was instead released after 20 days and deported to Tijuana. As nearly as anyone seems to know, the mistake was based on a confused conversation in which Guzman indicated to sheriff’s deputies that he was born in Mexico—nevermind the fact that he was born in Los Angeles.
Yet, despite his disability (not to mention the fact that he’d been locked up to begin with for irrational behavior), nobody bothered to check his records. Instead he was transferred from the LA County facility to an immigration detention center in Santa Ana, where the disoriented Guzman signed a voluntary deportation order—after which time he was transported to the border and dropped off, with little in his pockets, inside Mexico. He tried to call his family once after his deportation, but the conversation was cut off. And no one ever heard from Guzman again.
(WLA first reported on the issue here but, for the full tale, do yourself a favor and read Daniel Hernandez’ wonderful LA Weekly story on Guzman and his mother, Maria Carbajal.)
His mother took weeks away from her job working nights at Jack in the Box to search for her son, with no luck. She got zero help from the feds who, when she pleaded for their assistance, basically said, “Not our problem.”
(We understand that people make mistakes. But the responsible among us try then to rectify them.)
In any case, he’s found now—after being missing for three months— and was reunited with his family this afternoon.
Here are some clips from the ACLU press release that came out a little while ago:
….He told his family today that he attempted to cross the border several times but was turned away. He said he walked fromTijuana to Mexicali, a distance of more than 100 miles, and ate out of trash cans as he
looked for a way back into the U.S. His family says he was nearly unrecognizable…
Border agents detained Mr. Guzman as he attempted to cross into the U.S. near Calexico early Sunday morning. County officials had issued a warrant for his failure to appear at probation hearings, (!!!!!) despite attempts by the family and ACLU/SC to explain to probationofficials that he had been wrongfully deported.
(Good grief. And we wonder why our prisons are filled with people who have committed no new crimes but are simply arrested for technical violations of their probation or parole.)
The government had promised to immediately notify the family and their attorneys if it found Mr. Guzman. Instead, it took 36 hours for the family to be notified.
Mr. Guzman spent two days in jail (WHY EXACTLY?) before Superior Court Judge Carlos Chung ordered him released Tuesday morning. Late Monday night, ACLU/SC staff had met with Mr. Guzman at Men’s Central Jail and confirmed his identity. This afternoon, Sheriff’s Department officials transported him from downtown Los Angeles to the Antelope Valley Courthouse,where he was reunited with his mother, Maria Carbajal.
The family’s last contact with Mr. Guzman was May 11, when he called his sister-in-law from a borrowed cell phone to say he had been deported to Tijuana. The call cut off, and Carbajal rushed to Tijuana but was unable to locate him.
And so ends a harrowing three-month search. Thankfully Guzman’s okay. At least physically, anyway. And a mother gets her son back.
It’s a story that could have had a very different ending. It didn’t. But it could have.
UPDATE: According the lawsuit filed by the family, Guzman, who could neither read nor write, and has trouble processing information, was first asked about his immigration status in jail. And he told deputies—not that he was born in Mexico—but that he was born in California but had Mexican parents.
“Sometime after that,” writes the AP, “the Sheriff’s Department identified him as a non-citizen, obtained his signature for voluntary removal from the United States and turned him over to Customs and Immigration Enforcement, a division of the Homeland Security Department, for deportation.”
Also, instead of being in jail the 40 days that was expected, he was in jail around 20 days, thus the family was unaware of his release date until it was too late. (As you’ll see, I’ve corrected it above.)
The AP’s Peter Prengaman also writes that Guzman’s mother described her son as being very deteriorated, psychologically.
Guzman was shaking, stuttering and appeared traumatized,his family said at a news conference. The family said it planned to seek medical attention for Guzman, who was not at the news conference.
“They took him whole, but only returned half of him to me,” his mother, Maria Carbajal, said in Spanish while crying….
(photo of Pedro Guzman taken August 7, after reuniting with his family—courtesy of the ACLU of Southern California)