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Disabled man found after 89-day ordeal

Pedro Guzman, a U.S. citizen, wandered in Mexico after being wrongly deported. Family, ACLU criticize immigration officials.

August 08, 2007|Sam Quinones | Times Staff Writer

A U.S. citizen who had been in the custody of the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department before he disappeared in May after being wrongly deported to Mexico was found this week and ordered released to his family.

Pedro Guzman, 29, who is developmentally disabled, was taken into custody Sunday while trying to cross the border at Calexico, Mexico, said Michael Soller, a spokesman for the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California. The ACLU has represented Guzman's family in its attempts to get the federal government to help find him.

Guzman, of Lancaster, was transported to the Los Angeles County Jail. On Tuesday at a hearing in the Antelope Valley, Superior Court Judge Carlos Chung ordered him released to his family.

Guzman, who cannot read or write, spent much of the 89 days in Baja, California, on foot, avoiding human contact, eating from garbage cans and bathing in rivers, family members said at an afternoon news conference at the ACLU's Los Angeles office. Guzman, who was said to be malnourished and afraid of people, remained at home in Lancaster with relatives.

"They didn't return me back my whole son," said his mother, Maria Carbajal, who broke down sobbing. "They returned half my son to me. He isn't normal."

Carbajal said Guzman tried to cross the border on several occasions but was turned away by U.S. officials. She said he had probably walked about 100 miles during his ordeal.

Guzman was arrested earlier this year on charges of trespassing and spraying graffiti at an airplane junkyard in Lancaster. In April, he was sentenced to 120 days in jail, but that was reduced to 40 days.

On May 11, before his sentence was up, Guzman called his family from Tijuana and told them he had been deported.

Sheriff's officials had turned Guzman over to federal immigration agents after he apparently indicated that he was born in Mexico. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials denied at the time that anything improper was done, issuing a statement that said it deports individuals only "when all available credible evidence suggests the person is an alien. That process was followed here and ICE has no reason to believe that it improperly removed Pedro Guzman."

On Tuesday, an immigration official reiterated the agency's position. "We're confident our standards and procedures were followed correctly," spokeswoman Lori Haley said.

Immigration officials declined to comment on Guzman's apprehension at the border because of pending litigation brought against the agency by his family.

Mark Rosenbaum, the legal director for the ACLU's Southern California chapter, lambasted the federal government for deporting Guzman, and then for not helping to search for him. The ACLU sued the government unsuccessfully to force it to look for Guzman.

After a June hearing, 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 Guzman, but that it would be the right and moral thing to do.

Rosenbaum said that job ultimately fell to the family. He said Carbajal had to leave her job as a cook at Jack in the Box to look for her son, while other family members traveled repeatedly to Tijuana to help in the search.

"The family spent all of its savings and most of the last three months living at a fruit warehouse in Tijuana and sleeping in cars while they searched for Guzman, using up all their savings in the process," Rosenbaum said. "For the past 88 days, our government failed its defining purpose . . . only perhaps redeemed by a family that would not be swayed."

sam.quinones@latimes.com

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