By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
It’s unclear why. From his initial arrest through his court proceedings, Guzman referred to himself as a native of California. But a month later, in his immigration screening with a Sheriff’s custody assistant named Sandra Figueras, Guzman said he was from Mexico. “Throughout the questioning Mr. Guzman was alert, responsive, and nothing unusual was noted in his behavior. He did not appear to be mentally disabled,” Figueras says in a court statement. “Mr. Guzman stated that he was a native and citizen of Mexico and that he was born in Nayarit, Mexico.”
Even as his family continues to search for him in Tijuana, law enforcement authorities in Los Angeles seem to be indifferent to the fact that he’s missing. The speculation has arisen that perhaps Pedro wanted to be deported, that maybe he was escaping something or someone. Michael Guzman says he recently had an unpleasant telephone conversation with Pedro’s probation officer, who told Michael that if his brother didn’t appear at a scheduled hearing, he’d face a warrant for his arrest. “They made it seem like he’s on vacation,” Michael says.
Jacqueline Stevens, a professor of law and politics at the University of California, Santa Barbara, who has been following the case, says it wouldn’t make sense for Pedro to orchestrate his deportation knowingly. “What would be the motivation? He’s gonna get home release anyway. He had to not understand something.” In addition, the ACLU is arguing in court that Guzman’s prior drug conviction, categorized as an aggravated felony, should have made him ineligible for voluntary deportation.
Every day that passes, I am losing hope that I will find him.(Photo by Gregory Bojorquez)
Meanwhile, federal lawyers have been using Guzman’s statements and those by his own mother to challenge the ACLU’s assertions in court. They filed Guzman’s “voluntary deportation” form, bearing Guzman’s signature. In another filing, U.S. Attorney George Cardona included a declaration by an officer at the U.S. Consulate in Tijuana, who writes: “Mr. Guzman’s mother told a Consular Assistant that Mr. Guzman is not mentally impaired in any way.”
But when pressed, Carbajal admits her son has cognitive problems. “Yes, he forgets what he’s going to do, or what he did. For example, if I say, ‘Pedro do this, Pedro I need this,’ and later I say to him, ‘Didn’t I tell you I needed this?’ he says, ‘Oh, I’ll do it right now.’ But not like they’re saying on the news, that he’s mentally retarded. He’s not mentally retarded.”
Michael Guzman says that Pedro, older by a year, cannot read or write very well. When Pedro drives, he must either follow another driver to his destination or have someone drive behind him. “I don’t see him as being sick at all, I see him as my brother, no matter what stupid things he’s done,” Michael says. “But I mean there’s certain choices that he makes that a normal, sane person wouldn’t make. My mom is the one that makes his choices, my mom is basically the one that takes care of him.”
On one of her weekend return visits to Tijuana, I drive with Carbajal to the Otay mesa near the airport, where she is chasing another lead. A tall young man had been seen begging for change near the Otay border crossing. He told people he’s not from here and was asking for money to figure out a way to return home to “el otro lado.” That’s as far as she gets, but on the drive down the mesa’s scratchy hills, Carbajal spots a tall, thin homeless man, maybe in his late teens, early 20s, covered in dirt, wearing only rags, and a mop of messy hair. He is standing on an empty sidewalk, staring at nothing, dazed and filthy. She tells me to stop the car, and gets out to check if it could possibly be her lost son. Not Pedro.
“Would you believe that?” Carbajal then asks herself out loud. “Him, bearded and dirty like that? He would never be on the streets looking like that. He’d get embarrassed. When he asks you something, he doesn’t give you his eyes.”
In early July, Carbajal takes a break from her search. On the seventh, Michael, who also works at the Jack in the Box with his mother, weds his longtime girlfriend at the Stratosphere Hotel in Las Vegas. Pedro was supposed to have been his best man.
Los Angeles del Desierto, or the Angels of the Desert, is a binational immigrants’ support group in the San Diego–Tijuana border area. The group gathers every Saturday just before midnight at the San Ysidro crossing to distribute coffee and food to migrants who have just been deported. Weekend revelers — San Diego teens and college students — are clanking through the metal gates of the crossing, under the watch of U.S. customs agents, and barely notice as they pass four Angels volunteers, mostly seniors, at a folding table topped with a bin of coffee and plastic cups, a carton of creamer, and a box full of sandwiches wrapped in brown paper. Carbajal says I could come along with her tonight; she’s been volunteering with the group on its Saturday-night excursions into the Tijuana River to feed and clothe the homeless migrants and addicts who live there, hoping, by chance, that she might come across her lost boy.