August 8, 2007

Happy ending for wrongfully deported Mexican-American man

Two months ago, I posted here about a cognitively handicapped Mexican-American man who was illegally deported to Mexico and disappeared.

Pedro Guzman, born in the United States, was mistakenly deported after being jailed in his native Los Angeles on a minor trespassing charge. A former Special Education student, the 29-year-old is described by family members as a slow learner with memory problems.

In the last three months, Guzman said he made repeated attempts to get home, but was turned away by U.S. border agents.

Meanwhile, as he walked the 100 miles from Tijuana to Mexicali, eating out of garbage cans and bathing in rivers, his family was desperately searching for him. The family's pleas for help from both the U.S. and Mexican governments fell on death ears.

Guzman was finally picked up when U.S. authorities at the Calexico border realized he had an outstanding arrest warrant. The warrant, ironically, was for missing probation hearings during the time that he was trying to get home.

Although the U.S. government had promised to immediately notify the family if Guzman was located, he was instead jailed for two days before the family was notified and he was released.

Guzman appeared traumatized and was nearly unrecognizable, family members said at a news conference.

The family's last contact with Mr. Guzman had been on May 11, when he called his sister-in-law from a borrowed cell phone to say he had been deported. The call cut off. Although family members rushed to Tijuana, they were unable to find him.

This is not the first time that a U.S. native has been illegally deported. A similar case 30 years ago also involved a Mexican-American who was mentally disturbed and unable to care for himself. Like Guzman, Daniel Cardona of Clovis (near Fresno) wandered the streets of Tijuana for nearly five months while his frantic family searched for him.

The latest on the Guzman case is at the ACLU of Southern California’s web site.

AP coverage is online through the San Francisco Chronicle.

The “Witness LA” blog has also been covering the story.

But for the most extensive coverage of all, see the excellent L.A. Weekly feature by Daniel Hernandez, “Lost in Tijuana."

Photo (Guzman and his brother) posted with the permission of the ACLU of Southern California.