American Citizens Deported As Illegal Immigrants
In the frenzy to go after illegal immigrants, the United States has locked up or deported dozens of American citizens during the last eight years. The Associated Press conducted an investigation that has documented 55 cases of citizens detained from a day to five years.
Pedro Guzman (right), has been an American citizen all his life. Yet in 2007, the 31-year-old Los Angeles native – in jail for a misdemeanor, mentally ill and never able to read or write – signed a waiver agreeing to leave the country without a hearing and was deported to Mexico as an illegal immigrant.
For almost three months, Guzman slept in the streets, bathed in filthy rivers and ate out of trash cans while his mother scoured the city of Tijuana, its hospitals and morgues, clutching his photo in her hand. He was finally found trying to cross the border at Calexico, 100 miles away.
It’s illegal to deport US citizens or to detain them for immigration violations. And the ones who get tagged are the ones least able to defend themselves: the poor, children, and the mentally ill, for example.
After 2003, the nation launched several programs to detain more immigrants, including one that called on local police and sheriffs for help. Before 2007, just seven state and local law enforcement agencies worked with immigration. By last November, more than 950 officers from 23 states had attended a four-week program on how to root out and jail suspected illegal immigrants.
A Government Accountability Office investigation has since found that ICE did not ensure local officials properly used their authority and failed to collect data to assess the program. As a result, ICE is rewriting agreements with 67 agencies.
The program came under fire partly because it gives local officers so much leeway to decide who to stop. Almost one in 10 Hispanic adults born in the U.S. report that police or other authorities stopped them and asked about their immigration status in 2007, according to a Pew Hispanic Center survey of more than 2,000 people.
As for Guzman, he was born in California, but a sheriff’s employee got him to sign an agreement to leave the country without a hearing.
“He is our brother, somebody’s son, that they deported,” said Michael Guzman. “California is like the main capital of Latin Americans. It doesn’t matter whether you are a citizen or not. If you look Hispanic, they can question you. Deportation can happen to anybody.”
Neither the sheriff’s office nor immigration officials would discuss the case, citing pending litigation. The family has sued Los Angeles County and the federal government.
“When the whole story is told, people will see and understand what has occurred,” said Steve Whitmore, spokesman for the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Office.
In the meantime, Guzman’s mother, Maria Carbajal, often works the graveyard shift at a Jack in the Box because she is afraid to leave him alone during the day.Click here for reuse options!
Copyright 2009 Liberaland