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U.S. citizen was held in immigration custody

October 28, 2008|Anna Gorman | Gorman is a Times staff writer.

Federal authorities have released a Los Angeles man from immigration detention after acknowledging that he is a U.S. citizen.

Guillermo Olivares Romero, 25, was held at an Otay Mesa detention center from Sept. 25 until Oct. 9, when an American Civil Liberties Union attorney presented his birth certificate, school and vaccination records to immigration authorities. He was released that day.

Olivares, who has criminal convictions for robbery and forgery, had been deported twice and denied entry into the United States multiple times. Olivares said he and his mother, a legal permanent resident, showed authorities his birth certificate many times.

"They didn't believe me," Olivares, from Los Angeles, said Friday. "There was nothing I could do."

But Immigration and Customs Enforcement spokeswoman Virginia Kice said Friday that Olivares said he was born in Guadalajara, Mexico. Olivares' statewide criminal rap sheet also shows that he was born in Mexico, Kice said.

"ICE would never knowingly remove or voluntarily return an individual who is a U.S. citizen," she said.

This is not the first time a U.S. citizen has been deported. Pedro Guzman of Lancaster spent 89 days in Mexico after being deported by immigration agents. ICE agents said Guzman too had falsely contended that he was Mexican.

Olivares first encountered immigration officials in 2000, when, they say, he was trying to smuggle in a relative using someone else's birth certificate. Olivares said officials wouldn't let him in that day but allowed him to return to the United States a week later when his mother came down with his birth certificate.

In 2007, he was deported after serving time in state prison. Olivares said he insisted that he was not Mexican, but immigration officials say he signed a document acknowledging that he was and that was why he was being deported. Olivares decided to live with relatives in Jalisco but said that this summer he tried to return because his father was ill. Authorities wouldn't let him in. Desperate to see his father before he passed away, he said, he crossed illegally through the mountains. Olivares said he was arrested in Imperial County and deported again at the beginning of September -- the day his father died.

Toward the end of September, he tried one last time to cross legally with his mother.

"They wanted me to sign deportation papers," he said. "I told them I wasn't going to sign anything and I wanted to see a judge."

That's when authorities took him to the detention center near San Diego.

ACLU attorney Jennie Pasquarella said Olivares' situation underscores an immigration enforcement problem. Last month, Sens. Robert Menendez (D-New Jersey) and Edward Kennedy (D-Mass) introduced legislation to protect U.S. citizens and legal residents from being detained and deported.

"We are so adamant about detaining and deporting immigrants that people are being caught up in the system who have a legal entitlement to be here," she said. "It's particularly egregious that it's happening to U.S. citizens."

Kice said that the system works, but that U.S. citizens sometimes lie about their nationality to evade prosecution or avoid probation rules.

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anna.gorman@latimes.com

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