Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Pedro Guzman: Why Local Authorities Shouldn't Enforce Immigration Law

Remember when I told you about Orange County's program of conducting immigration checks in local jails? Remember when I raised the concern of someone being unfairly targeted for deportation for the simple crime of "looking like an illegal alien"? Well, my concern is now reality. (From LA Times)

The family of an American citizen who disappeared after apparently being mistakenly deported to Tijuana a month ago has filed suit asking the U.S. government to help find him.

Pedro Guzman, 29, a Lancaster construction worker, is developmentally disabled and penniless, and he hasn't been heard from since May 11, said his family at a news conference in Los Angeles on Monday.

Now if this can happen in Los Angeles County, then how long before this also happens in Orange County, and in other places where sheriffs' deputies are expected to enforce immigration law? Follow me down below for more...

(Cross-posted at Calitics)

Remember what I said last month about enforcing federal immigration law at our local jails?

But why do this? Most of those immigrants in jail are incarcerated for rather minor crimes, like tagging a fire hydrant or riding a bicycle on the wrong side of the street. Does that merit being separated from one's family indefinitely? Does a parking violation merit losing one's job and one's livelihood? These are poor, desperate workers trying to survive. Do they really deserve this draconian measure?

And what about those inmates who are here legally, but are unfairly targeted by this system? Is that a real problem that we will face in Orange County? Is it fair to be targeted on the basis of the color of one's skin? Is it fair to be targeted on the basis of "looking like an illegal alien"?

Well, let's see. Pedro Guzman is a US citizen, so he's always been here legally. Pedro Guzman is developmentally disabled, so he probably wasn't all that prepared to defend himself when deputies were asking him about his immigration status. Pedro Guzman was arrested for misdemeanor trespassing, so it's not like he's a "dangerous criminal".

I just had a feeling that this system of local law enforcement trying to enforce federal immigration law was a disaster waiting to happen. And guess what? The disaster happened.

Under a cooperative program by state and local law enforcement, sheriff's deputies trained by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement personnel conduct immigration checks at Los Angeles County jails. The ACLU and immigrant rights groups opposed the program.

"The deputies who interviewed Mr. Guzman are poorly versed in the complexities of immigration law and were bound to make this tragic error," the suit states. "Additionally, the deputies are pressured to process inmates through the (jail system's) Inmate Reception Center as quickly as possible with little regard for his rights, because there are so many inmates to process."

Yes, the deputies already have so much to worry about with all the hordes of inmates in the probation system. And especially in overcrowded jails like those in Los Angeles County, deputies don't have the time to worry about the intricacies of federal immigration law. However, these intricacies are crucial to ensuring that these accused "illegal alien criminals" are afforded their basic rights. And these intricacies are essential to ensuring that US CITIZENS LIKE PEDRO GUZMAN AREN'T MISTAKENLY DEPORTED!

So perhaps those seven OC cities should ignore that grand jury recommendation that they follow the OC Sheriff's lead in meddling in federal immigration law. And perhaps, LA County should stop trying to enforce federal law. Oh yes, and Orange County should do the same. After all, do we want to see more cases like Pedro Guzman's?

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