By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
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By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
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The story trickled into the Spanish-language news in L.A., then into Tijuana. The American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California spotted the case and filed a lawsuit, claiming Pedro Guzman’s constitutional rights to due process were violated by the deportation. Describing Guzman as “developmentally disabled,” the suit casts his deportation as “banishment” and “cruel and unusual punishment.”
In mid-June, although he admitted it would be the “right” and “moral” thing to do, U.S. District Judge Dean Pregerson denied the ACLU’s request to order the Department of Homeland Security to intervene and conduct a search for Pedro in Tijuana. Consular officials south of the border were notified to be on the lookout, but beyond that, both the U.S. and Mexican governments have done little to assist in Pedro’s search.
In the news, Guzman’s case sounded like a real-life version of the 1987 Cheech Marin movie Born in East L.A., in which Marin’s character is accidentally deported and spends most of the film comically searching for a return home from Tijuana. But it wasn’t the first time such a real and not-so-funny case had made the papers. In September 1977, a U.S. citizen named Daniel Cardona was wrongfully deported from Clovis, near Fresno. The L.A. Times reported in 1981: “The mentally-disturbed young man, who is unable to care for himself, wandered the streets of Tijuana for almost five months before his frantic family found him. He had to be hospitalized for two weeks before he was allowed back into the country.”
Like Guzman, Cardona signed a statement claiming Mexican citizenship. The paper reported back then that some Border Patrol officers admitted to feeling expected to “forcefully dispute claims of U.S. citizenship that they believe[d] to be false.” And as in Cardona’s case, the task of locating Guzman in Tijuana has been left entirely to his family. More specifically, his mother.
As she searches for her son, questions swirl around her: Why was Pedro singled out to be screened by immigration? Why would he lie about his status? Why hasn’t he called us back? Did he find work? Did he go farther south?
“Only he knows how to answer that, when he is present,” Carbajal says. Lawyers fighting for the government and for the ACLU have a lot of questions too: Is Guzman mentally disabled? Was he coerced or convinced at some point during his time in county jail to sign a voluntary deportation order? Could it be possible that he wanted to be deported?
It is late June, six weeks since Pedro entered Mexico at San Ysidro, the southernmost district of San Diego. He hasn’t been heard from since his initial phone call home. Carbajal left her job on the night shift at a Jack in the Box to stay behind and keep up the search. It took some time, she says, to get used to daylight again.
“I don’t have a schedule. I find someone who says they saw him, or saw someone who looks like him. I’ll go meet them, it doesn’t matter what time it is,” Carbajal says. “But nothing, no one has given me anything.”
We come to a pink house with a lush garden. “Two Christian sisters” live here, Carbajal says. Her flier of Pedro is posted on a pink stone fence outside, next to a flier for a missing old man. Two L.A.-area-code phone numbers are listed. “Excuse me, sir,” Carbajal says to a gardener on the other side of the wall. “Have you seen the man in this photograph? Has he come by?”
The gardener shakes his head no. We keep moving. I offer to drive Carbajal to Colonia Libertad, one of the city’s oldest neighborhoods, where my father was raised. We stop at a Salvation Army center on one of Libertad’s main streets, a plain building with an ongoing rummage sale near the entrance. Carbajal displays her flier of Pedro to a woman in a white suit sitting behind a desk in a tiny office. “Ah, yes,” the woman says, “I’ve heard of this case.” She examines the photo closely. She says the Salvation Army headquarters distributed a letter about Pedro Guzman, but it did not include a photograph. “Is he of poor faculties?”
“No,” Carbajal says shortly. “He is normal.”
“But in the letter they said he had mental problems.”
“No, he is normal,” Carbajal repeats. “Sometimes he forgets things, and in school in the second grade they classified him as needing special education. He was slower to learn than the others.”
“Ahh,” the woman says. She suggests Carbajal make a photocopy of the flier at an Internet café across the street. She will post it on the missing-persons announcements wall outside, she says, with the others. And that’s that.
Outside, we meet a young guy on the sidewalk. He peers at the photograph of Pedro, before deciding, predictably, that Pedro looks familiar. He lingers and begins to talk and talk to us as we stand and wait, unable to decide where to go next. The migrant, barely a young man, tells us he too got deported a year and a half ago. He’s been wandering the streets of Tijuana ever since. His arms are covered with dirt. His jeans are dusty and torn. He says he is from Guerrero. “Why haven’t you returned to your mother?” Carbajal asks.