Friday, June 15, 2007

U.S. Citizen Deported in Error. Judge Says Nothing He Can Do.

According to the Southern California ACLU, on May 10 or May 11, 2007 Pedro Guzman, a 29 year-old born in Los Angeles, was deemed by ICE agents visiting the Los Angeles County jail as an illegal immigrant and taken to Tijuana. According to Fox (sorry, they had the best description of how his family learned about this):

Guzman called the home of his half-brother Juan Carlos Chabes in Lancaster on May 11, Michael Guzman said. He spoke briefly with Chabes' wife, telling her that he had been deported but that he didn't know where he was.

He asked a passer-by where he was, and Chabes' wife heard a man respond, "Tijuana," Michael Guzman said.

Lawyers from the ACLU and the immigration law firm Van Der Hout, Brigagliano & Nightingale filed a lawsuit demanding the U.S. government find Guzman in Mexico and return him to the USA, and two days ago the Federal Court issued its ruling: tough luck. According to the L.A. Times:

U.S. District Judge Dean Pregerson said he was not convinced that he had the authority to order the government to help in the search for Pedro Guzman, a U.S. citizen, but said it would be the "right" and "moral" thing to do.

Guzman's mother brought the court a birth certificate showing that her son was born in Los Angeles and the U.S. government is not disputing Guzman's citizenship. (To see the debacle as its covered in the Mexican media, watch this story on Telemundo.) On Thursday, June 14, according to AP (the article is accessible only through Lexis-Nexis) the Department of Homeland Security issued a poster to the U.S. embassy and consul offices in Mexico stating:

"Subject is a (U.S. citizen), was removed, possibly mentally impaired. Hold for safeguard contact."
The ACLU press release states:

This is a recurring nightmare for every person of color of immigrant roots," said ACLU/SC legal director Mark Rosenbaum. "Local jail officials and federal immigration officers deported the undeportable, a United States citizen, based on appearance, prejudice, and reckless failure to apply fair legal procedures."

Civil rights advocates have long worried about law enforcement of immigrant status. The concern is that the effort to catch immigrants here without the permission of the government is going to lead to racial and linguistic profiling and the harassment of citizens. But who, other than the Klan and the Minuteman--who support a White-only USA--would have guessed that in 2007 the government of the United States of America would be deporting its own citizens with no due process and no immediate legal remedy?

The Gitmo-ization of law has come home to roost. The absence of due process has become an acceptable principle for those who are not citizens, and hence in deportation proceedings means it is impossible to even determine who is an alien. That's why the judge was at a loss. ICE followed the rules. And the rules are consistent with the law. The problem is not civil rights violations but the fact that by law ICE has few restrictions on its authority once they deem someone "illegal." The solution is not only to bring back Guzman, but to keep ICE out of jails, off university campuses, and, ideally to shut them down altogether. Congress is going to have to stop making morality a matter of government choice and to make the laws moral by dropping status distinctions based on birthright.

6-15-08 UPDATE: See Nation article about ICE deporting and detaining thousands of US citizens, "Thin ICE".

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