LOS ANGELES - Attorneys for the ACLU of Southern California and the law firm of Morrison & Foerster today announce the filing of a lawsuit on behalf of Peter Guzman, a U.S. citizen who was illegally deported to Mexico.
Guzman, who was born in Los Angeles as Pedro but is called Peter by his family, was deported May 11, 2007 from an L.A. County jail despite clear evidence that he was a U.S. citizen. He spent nearly three months lost in Mexico while family members desperately searched for him. They slept in a banana warehouse and started their days at 6 a.m., visiting hospitals, jails, shelters, and truck stops. His mother scanned online photos of the deceased from a Tijuana morgue.
Guzman, now 30, was reunited with his family August 7 after he was stopped by U.S. border agents. Guzman was gaunt and had difficulty communicating with his family. 'He left complete but they took half my son,' Guzman's mother, Maria Carbajal, told reporters.
'ICE put Peter Guzman on a bus with $3 in his pocket and put him out in Tijuana,' said Jim Brosnahan, senior partner at the law firm of Morrison & Foerster. 'With no family or friends in Mexico, he broke down and thought that his country had rejected him.'
The lawsuit states that agents from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement coerced Guzman into waiving his legal rights as a U.S. citizen. Guzman, who struggles with basic reading and writing, visual processing, conceptualization skills and memory, was unable to understand what he was signing.
'Citizenship is the constitutional birthright of every individual born within our borders. Our government deported and abandoned Peter because in its eyes, he was the wrong skin color,' said Mark Rosenbaum, legal director of the ACLU of Southern California.
Jails personnel and ICE agents conduct screenings into inmates' immigration status that 'presume foreign citizenship of inmates based on their race, ethnicity, appearance and/or surname,' according to the lawsuit.
Guzman was deported to Tijuana, a city he had not visited in more than a decade, where he knew no one. He survived by begging and picking food from garbage cans. He bathed in the Tijuana River and typically slept outdoors.
In June 2007 the ACLU of Southern California asked a federal judge to order the government to assist in the search for Mr. Guzman but despite admitting in court that he was a U.S. citizen, Department of Homeland Security officers and agents failed to undertake reasonable and diligent efforts to return Guzman to his family. Family members say the government's actions endangered Mr. Guzman's life and violated his civil rights.
On Feb. 13, Brosnahan told members of a U.S. House of Representatives subcommittee investigating the deportation of U.S. citizens that 'the illegal deportation of Peter Guzman was not an innocent mistake by ICE officials or agents.' To read the full testimony and learn more about that hearing visit the House Judiciary Committee website.