A U.S. citizen whom immigration authorities had wrongly deported is back in Los Angeles after what family members say was a harrowing three months in Mexico. Twenty-nine-year-old Pedro Guzman, who's developmentally disabled, was reunited Tuesday with his family in Lancaster. His lawyers say they had to fight for his release even after he was in the United States.
Frank Stoltze: With tears streaming down her face, Pedro Guzman's mother said her son may be back home. But he is not the same man as before.
[Sound of Maria Carbajal, speaking in Spanish]
Stoltze: Maria Carbajal said she'd like to thank everybody who helped her find her son. But, she added, he didn't return in one piece, and the government is to blame for that.
Michael Guzman said the deportation scarred his mentally disabled brother.
Michael Guzman: He stutters when he speaks. He's afraid of people, in particular anyone that walks around him or near him. At the moment that we picked him up at the jail, he was shivering. He was very afraid of everything around him. So right now, we have a lot ahead of us.
Stoltze: Pedro Guzman's ordeal began May 11 as he completed a jail sentence for trespassing in Lancaster. During a screening process, an apparently confused Guzman told Los Angeles County jail officials that he was an illegal immigrant. Federal immigration authorities deported him to Tijuana, without checking Guzman's birth records. Officials said he showed no sign of mental illness.
For weeks, Guzman's mother searched Tijuana. She left her job as a cook, slept in her car, and followed tips that led nowhere. Guzman's brother said Pedro can't remember telephone numbers and never called home.
American Civil Liberties Union Attorney Mark Rosenbaum represents Guzman. He said his client has shared only a few details about his time south of the border.
Mark Rosenbaum: He ate out of garbage cans, he bathed in rivers, he had little human contact, and on several occasions he presented himself at the border and was turned away by his government and told to stop playing games.
Stoltze: Immigration authorities refused to comment on the allegation, nor on Guzman's release. Earlier, they had refused to assign agents to help search for him.
Rosenbaum said border agents finally detained Guzman as he attempted to cross into the U.S. near Calexico early Sunday. Los Angeles County officials had issued a warrant for his arrest because he'd failed to appear at probation hearings – despite his family's attempt to explain he had been wrongfully deported. It took two days for immigration authorities to release Guzman – and only after a court ordered them to do so.
Rosenbaum offers a simple explanation for why authorities failed to determine whether Guzman was a citizen before they deported him.
Rosenbaum: This government deported Pedro Guzman because of his skin color, did not believe him when he said he was a United States citizen born in California because of his skin color.
Stoltze: Pedro Guzman was not present for the news conference announcing his return. His family said he was at home recuperating from his 89 days as a deported U.S. citizen.