By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
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By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
The next day, Guzman was released from the Antelope Valley courthouse. A photograph distributed at the news conference showed a thin, bushy-haired Guzman hunched over with a shirt wrapped around his shoulders, but clearly back home under the hot Lancaster sun. Carbajal and Michael said Pedro told them only snippets of his ordeal in Tijuana, a place he had not visited since he was a teenager. He said he first tried to cross back home through San Ysidro, but was repeatedly turned away by U.S. border agents and told, “Stop playing games.” He told his family he then walked 100 miles east to reach the border crossing at Mexicali. He said he ate out of garbage cans, bathed in canals, and avoided people and police. “Whatever we did get out of him, we couldn’t understand it,” Michael said of his first conversation with Pedro. “That’s not my brother, to a certain point.”
It’s still unclear how Guzman’s deportation happened. Initially after his arrest, he told authorities he was born in California. (Guzman was born in September 1977 at USC–L.A. County Medical Center on the Eastside.) But in mid-May, as he was being processed for home release, Guzman told a Sheriff’s custody assistant that he was born in Mexico, according to court documents. Perhaps not realizing that Guzman might have mental issues, the Sheriff’s authorities handed him over to immigration officials in Santa Ana, where again he stated he was a native of Mexico and signed a voluntary deportation order — a one-way ticket to Tijuana. The ACLU contends the jails have few ways to verify whether an inmate is lying about his status.
But the federal government did not relent on the position it has held since the story broke, that Guzman was deported lawfully. “We believe that, yes,” said ICE spokeswoman Lori Haley, adding via e-mail: “ICE recognizes the important responsibility of enforcing our nation’s immigration laws and carries out its mission judiciously, fairly, and appropriately.”
On Tuesday, the renewed questions flew from a packed room of journalists: Did ICE cross-reference Pedro’s statements with whatever documents exist related to a prior arrest and conviction? Were any efforts made to establish whether he suffers from a mental disability? Did he knowingly sign a voluntary deportation order, or was he somehow coerced? How can this scenario be prevented in the future?
Haley said she was unable to answer any more questions on the Guzman case or the particulars of his re-entry into the country because of the ongoing litigation between the government and the ACLU. So reporters had only the word of the Guzman family and its lawyers to try to piece together what happened to Pedro between his deportation 89 days ago and his reunification with his mother. In the end, no one will truly know what happened except Pedro and Maria Carbajal, who even under the pressure of media questioning maintained the focused and measured certainty of a mother with a mission.
“Like I said he would be, he was afraid of the police in Mexico,” she said after the news conference, standing in the ACLU building’s gated rear parking lot. “I know that little by little, he will tell me what happened. He speaks to me more than anyone else. With time, I will get more reaction from him.”