Pedro Guzman has been an American citizen all his life. Yet in 2007, the 31-year-old who is mentally ill and not able to read or write — while in jail for a misdemeanor violation — signed a waiver agreeing to leave the country without a hearing. The Los Angeles native was deported to Mexico as an illegal immigrant.
For almost three months, Guzman slept in the streets, bathed in filthy rivers and ate out of trash cans while his mother scoured Tijuana, its hospitals and morgues, clutching his photo in her hand. He was finally found trying to cross the border at Calexico.
These days, back home in California, "he just changes from one second to another. His brain jumps back to when he was missing," said his brother, Michael Guzman. "We just talk to him and reassure him that everything is fine, and nobody is going to hurt him."
In a drive to crack down on illegal immigrants, the United States has locked up or thrown out dozens, probably many more, of its own citizens in the past eight years. A months-long Associated Press investigation has documented 55 such cases, on the basis of interviews, lawsuits and records obtained under the Freedom of Information Act. These citizens were detained for periods from one day to five years. Immigration lawyers say there are hundreds of such cases.
I've heard isolated complaints about this same phenomenon at Texas jails, but until now hadn't seen documentation that the problem was that widespread. Good reporting.