AP PHOTO/ACLU/SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA
A headline in the San Francisco Chronicle screams, 900 Nabbed in State on Immigration Charges. The Seattle Times reports, Feds Combing Jails for Illegal Immigrants. An AP article declares, Immigration Raid in Iowa Largest Ever in US and reports 390 arrests. In 2007, 276,912 US residents were deported. Thanks to a recent Bush Administration crackdown, the net cast by the Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency (ICE) is wide–so wide, it turns out, that some of those being deported are US citizens.
Is ICE an efficient law enforcement agency? Or, in the words of Robert, 38, a US citizen twice deported to Mexico, is ICE “just throwing us out for nothing”?
Consider what happened to Peter Guzman. Last year Guzman, a US citizen born in Los Angeles in 1977, drove onto the tarmac of a regional airport in his hometown of Lancaster, about eighty miles northeast of Los Angeles, boarded a charter plane without a ticket and refused to get off. Guzman was arrested and sentenced, and served forty-one days in a Los Angeles County jail. According to his lawyer, Mark Rosenbaum of the Southern California ACLU, Guzman was excited about being released in time for his brother’s July wedding in Las Vegas. “It was a big deal to Peter. He was going to be the best man.” It never occurred to Guzman that in July he’d be eating garbage and bathing in the Tijuana River.
But on May 11, 2007, he called his family and said he’d been deported. According to the ACLU lawsuit, before his sister-in-law could find out exactly where he was and give him instructions, the line was cut. She overheard him ask, “Where am I?”
In early August 2007, after Guzman had spent three months trying to return, his appeal to a border agent in Calexico was finally successful: Guzman was arrested for missing his first probation hearing and brought back to Los Angeles. ICE says it has Guzman’s signature on a voluntary departure agreement. Guzman’s attorneys say the signature was coerced and that it is never legal to deport a US citizen.
Gary Mead, ICE assistant director for detention and removal, testified at a Congressional hearing in February that Guzman’s case is unique. But California Democratic Congresswoman Zoe Lofgren calls Guzman the “poster child” for an epidemic of detaining and deporting US citizens by ICE. Kara Hartzler, an attorney at the Florence Immigrant and Refugee Rights Project (FIRRP), agrees with Lofgren. Last year Hartzler’s staff of six attorneys provided presentations and occasionally individual advice to more than 8,000 detainees in southern Arizona. About 10 percent of people ICE detains nationwide are sent to Florence and nearby Eloy, about sixty miles south of Phoenix. Hartzler testified, “The deportation of US citizens is not happening monthly, or weekly, but every day.”
ICE does not keep records on cases in which detainees claim to be US citizens. If larger trends are consistent with the pattern in Hartzler’s caseload, since 2004 ICE has held between 3,500 and 10,000 US citizens in detention facilities and deported about half. US citizens are a small percentage of ICE detentions for this period, which totaled around 1 million, but in absolute terms the figure is staggering.