The family of an American citizen who disappeared after apparently being mistakenly deported to Tijuana a month ago has filed suit asking the U.S. government to help find him.
Pedro Guzman, 29, a Lancaster construction worker, is developmentally disabled and penniless, and he hasn't been heard from since May 11, said his family at a news conference in Los Angeles on Monday.
His mother, Maria Carbajal, said she spent the last month in Tijuana living out of her car while searching in vain for her son. She said neither the U.S. nor the Mexican government has helped in her search for him.
"I've done a lot," she said, "and I haven't found him."
In a statement, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials said they deport a person 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."
The family disagrees.
"I feel my government has let me down. I know it has failed him as well," said younger brother Michael Guzman, 28. "All we want is our brother back."
Guzman was born in Los Angeles, his family said. He is light-skinned and 6 feet 5. He speaks English and Spanish, made it through the 10th grade and has a driver's license.
But his family said he cannot read or write, gets lost easily and, although he does not appear mentally impaired, can be taciturn and suspicious of strangers.
The situation began when Los Angeles County Sheriff's deputies arrested Guzman for trespassing at an airplane junkyard in Lancaster.
His mother said he was sentenced in April to 120 days in jail, but that about a month later, he called to say he had been deported to Tijuana and didn't know why.
The American Civil Liberties Union, a partner in the suit, criticized the Sheriff's Department for acting, it said, as de facto immigration agents.
"Because they did so in this case, there's a man lost in Mexico," said Mark Rosenbaum, legal director of the ACLU of Southern California.
Steve Whitmore, a Sheriff's Department spokesman, said the department hadn't reviewed the lawsuit and had no comment on its specifics.
But he denied that deputies act as federal immigration agents. He said deputies interview foreign-born jail inmates before their release and turn the information over to the immigration agency.
"ICE makes the decision" on whether a person stays in the country," he said. "We don't know how that occurs."
Guzman's family said a deputy told them Guzman stated during his booking that he was born in California. Whether he said anything later that led deputies to believe he was born abroad is unknown.
"We need to find that out," Whitmore said. "We look forward to telling the whole story."
Carbajal, a cook at a Jack-in-the-Box in Lancaster, described the last month as a nightmarish reencounter with the country she left in 1975 as a girl of 19.
While searching for her son in Tijuana, she lived in her car at a banana warehouse owned by a man from her village of Jalcocotan, in the Pacific Coast state of Nayarit. Immigrants from Jalcocotan often use the warehouse as a way station.
Each day, Carbajal said, she would set out through the city's chaotic streets, asking people about her son, but returning to the warehouse alone each night.
She said she left fliers bearing her son's image at the morgue, hospitals, cantinas, churches and shelters for poor immigrants.
"I've gone places where I know I shouldn't go. I've gone down into the rivers alone," she said, referring to riverbeds and ravines in Tijuana where people live and sometimes where bodies are dumped. "No one tells me anything. They just say, 'I don't know.' "
As tall as he is, Guzman would seem hard to miss. Yet the Mexican government, which has long criticized the treatment of its immigrants in the United States, has done nothing to help her, Carbajal said.
She said she went to the jail in Tijuana, asking to tour it in search of her son.
"They never let me look for him inside the jail, or send his photo in," she said. "They just said, 'He's not here.' "
Rosenbaum said the family believes Guzman could be in the jail.
In another case, Rosenbaum said, Tijuana jailers have denied they have a man in custody, though he continues to call his family from the jail.
"This family cannot do more than it has done," Rosenbaum said.