June 25, 2007

Mentally retarded man disappears after accidental deportation

The 2005 remake of "Fun with Dick and Jane" has a scene in which Jim Carrey – reduced to the status of a day laborer outside a Home Depot - is mistaken for a Mexican and deported.

If the scene seems a bit implausible, it is not. Especially for someone with a Latino surname.

Last month, a developmentally delayed man who was born and raised in the United States was mistakenly deported to Mexico. Unlike Jim Carrey, Pedro Guzman did not have the cognitive or financial resources to sneak back across the border to his home. He disappeared, and his family has not been able to find him.

It all started when 29-year-old Guzman was arrested for misdemeanor trespassing at an airplane junkyard and was sentenced to serve 40 days in the Los Angeles County Jail.

During a pre-release interview, he said something that led a “custody assistant” to decide that he had “entered the United States illegally” and “had no legal right to be in the United States.” No one knows exactly what was asked of him or what he said. Like many individuals with developmental disabilities, Mr. Guzman covered for his intellectual handicaps by pretending to understand. Family members believe that he may have mentioned a family vacation to Mexico when he was 12 years old.

The jailer contacted ICE, Immigration & Customs Enforcement. Mr. Guzman then signed a form in Spanish agreeing to voluntary deportation. According to his family, he cannot read or write. Most especially – having attended only English-speaking schools in Los Angeles – he would not have been able to read a form written in Spanish.

On May 10, Mr. Guzman called his family from a borrowed cell phone to say that he had been deported to Tijuana. His sister could hear him asking someone, “Where am I?” Then the line went dead. That is the last that his family has heard from him, despite their taking time off work to scour Tijuana for him.

Guzman knew no one in Tijuana. He was deported without any money and without the cognitive skills to get himself back home, according to his family.

Guzman has a birth certificate proving his U.S. citizenship. There are no circumstances in which the U.S. government may legally deport a U.S. citizen.

The family's pleas for assistance from the U.S. and Mexican governments have fallen on deaf ears.