I spoke this morning by phone with Omar Jadwat, Immigration Rights Project staff attorney at the ACLU offices in New York City about Pedro Guzman, a U.S. citizen ICE accidentally deported from the L.A. County jail on May 10, 2007 and now missing in Mexico (other posts with details on the event are here, and on the legal context here).
Excerpts from my typed transcription of the conversation with Mr. Jadwat:
JS: What is the current status of Pedro Guzman? Has he been located?
OJ: No. We have asked the judge for another status conference. We believe the government is not taking substantial steps to rectify the consequences of their horrible mistake.
JS: Have they done anything other than circulate posters?
OJ: Sometime back they inquired of shelters.
JS: What else would you like them to do?
OJ: They're obligated to make their best efforts to locate Mr. Guzman, and they haven't even begun.
JS: When is this hearing scheduled?
OJ: We're not sure. We have been asking the court to schedule [a hearing] and we hope the court would order one shortly. Time is of the essence here. Getting a ruling from the court is not an end in itself, merely a way to get the government to fix its mixtake and to help this family desperate to find this guy who was taken from them.
JS: Do you know why Guzman was singled out for this questioning? Was it based on race? Is ICE interviewing everyone in the L.A. jail to find out of they're a citizen?
OJ: The cooperation between the sheriff's department and ICE is supposed to governed by a memorandum of understanding (MOU). To what extent the MOU actually describes details on the ground and how typical his treatment is of how people are processed in the county jail will become clearer as case moves on. The fact that this happened and that we have a system that's so devoid of safeguards to due process that a U.S. citizen can be deported in this manner is really both an indictment of the system if it works and a reason to avoid having this kind of cooperation as a typical feature of how jails operate. It's a really horrific result. No matter what he said or his mental capacity there's something wrong with a system that allows this to happen, and no justification for the L.A. County Sheriff's Department or any jail to try participate in a system where things like this happen.
JS: Is there other litigation contemplated for the Guzman case?
OJ: The priority is to get Mr. Guzman home. That will continue to be the priority until he's located.
JS: Does the ACLU believe that under present law immigrants have the same legal rights as citizens?
OJ: The ACLU spent the years between 1996 and 2001 litigating attempts in 1996 to limit judicial review for non-citizens [Illegal Immigration Reform and Responsibility Act of 1996] and we succeeded in preserving some review of important issues, despite what the legislation was understood to be saying. It's an ongoing fight that involves trying to continue to preserve judicial review. The whole issue of what process people get when they're facing removal from this country, and also detention and other things that happen [to aliens] is a core issue for us. Without due process any other guarantees are really meaningless and there's no check on what the government can do.