Wednesday, August 8, 2007

L.A. County Jail Deputy Blames INS for Pedro Guzman's Deportation

Last week, before Pedro Guzman was allowed to enter his homeland, I called the L.A. County Jail to see if I could learn more about the procedures leading to a deportation.

All the legal filings from the government in response to the ACLU lawsuit refer to the screening procedures in the passive voice, i.e., "subject was encountered at L.A. County Jail by Custody Assistant Sandra Figueras as part of routine assigned duties to interview suspected criminal aliens" (from the June 13, 2007 Petitioner's Reply in Support of Ex Parte Application for Temporary Restraining Order). But there is no information as to the substance of these routine duties that would lead to such an encounter.

According to the ACLU, Pedro Guzman was singled out because of race. Either there are rules for profiling in place that the jail followed to initiate the interview with the INS that led to Guzman's confusion and deportation, or this occurred in an ad hoc fashion in violation of the jail rules. Which was it?

Before turning to the interview, a little background: In 2005 the Los Angeles County Jails entered into a Memorandum of Understanding with the Department of Homeland Security, allowing it to train some of its deputies to assist as INS agents in screening and detaining criminal aliens for deportation from the county jail. Sandra Figueras was one of those employees.

The Deputy I spoke to was very forthcoming about the jail procedures, explaining that when inmates are booked they're asked to identify their birthplace. If it's outside the United States, then the jail contacts the INS for an interview to ascertain their legal status. However, it's clear from all the records that Guzman initially identified his birthplace as California, so there would be no reason for the jail to initiate Guzman's INS interview.

I pressed the deputy a bit, asking if they did any screening on their own to ascertain if arrestees lied about their birthplace. He told me that they protect against this through consulting earlier records when the "roll" the arrestees for fingerprints, but if there's nothing there, then they would never call the INS: "We don't do background checks. We just process inmates here. We don't waste our time on that; we don't intervene in any way, unless we see someone who says they're born outside the country."

I then asked if he was familiar with Guzman's deportation--again this was last week--and he was not, so I gave him a summary and asked how Guzman would have come to the attention of the INS. He told me that the INS agents in the jail do their own screenings and he didn't know how those worked. When I told him that Guzman definitely was born in the United States and his mother had the birth certificate to prove it, he said, "That would have been their foul up. The family should have had the opportunity to bring in a birth certificate and clear things up."

This is obviously true, and underlined by the fact that all of the Guzman's documents in his criminal record indicate that he was born in California. Indeed, if the judge who sentenced Guzman to 90 days in jail on April 19, 2007 had the slightest idea that Guzman would be deported as a criminal alien he would not also have sentenced Guzman to 3 years probation, and the state would not have issued a warrant for his arrest for missing the probation hearing, which, ironically, appears to be why the DHS finally allowed him back into the country. In other words, there was plenty of information available to any interested parties that would indicate Guzman's nationality.

In reflecting about the above confusion over the missed probation hearings--why wouldn't the L.A. Sheriff process the paperwork indicating Guzman had been deported, which would render the probation hearings moot?--it seems possible that the incorrectly addressed "Immigration Detainer--Notice of Action" issued by Sandra Figueras on April 26 could be the culprit. Perhaps absent this piece of paperwork, inexplicably addressed to an inn in Colorado with which Guzman had no connection and which knew nothing of Guzman, it was easier for L.A. jail to drop the ball when it came to tracking Guzman's legal whereabouts. Again, hard to know because the DHS is not talking.

(Believe me, I tried. No one in the Santa Ana Detention and Removal office would answer the first question: "how do the INS agents in the jails decide whom to interview?" even though these are the folks making these decisions. They did not refuse to answer the question but the passed me around to numerous people until a gentleman named Leo said he had to ask his supervisor about speaking to me, and then left me on hold for 15 minutes, at which point I hung up and called back. At that point, all the numbers I had been given had turned on their voice mail. )

In any case, it's not surprising that this happened, given that the DHS is recruiting from...Craigslist. The heading from the L.A. posting for August 1, 2007 says, "TAKE CHARGE OF YOUR CAREER PROTECTING AMERICA’S BORDERS" and tells potential applicants they can look forward to working in an "exciting environment with wide-open spaces..." Perhaps it was someone responding to one of these ads who ignored the alerts the DHS sent to its field offices telling them to allow Guzman into the country if he presented himself and turned him away, back into Mexico. Maybe they were surfing for used ping-pong tables.

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