Thursday, February 14, 2008

House members grill ICE over Guzman case.

WASHINGTON - Federal immigration officials tried to convince a House immigration subcommittee Wednesday that last year's deportation of a mentally disabled American citizen was an accident, not evidence of widespread flaws in the agency's policies and procedures.

Lawyers and advocates suggested otherwise.

At the heart of Wednesday's hearing is the case involving Pedro Guzman, a 30-year-old California native who U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials removed from the country and sent to Tijuana, Mexico, in May, 2006.

Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-San Jose, who chairs the panel, said she hoped the hearing "will reveal where problems lie and lead us to solutions."

Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, asked Gary E. Mead, deputy director of the Office of Detention and Removal Operations at ICE, about the likelihood that Guzman was not the only U.S. citizen illegally removed from the country last year.

Mead said that about 310,000 people passed through the agency's 400 detention centers last year and that roughly 280,000 were deported. When asked how many deportations involved American citizens, Mead said, "To the best of my knowledge, only one U.S. citizen was removed."

Regardless, he said the agency is "reviewing its policies and procedures to determine if even greater safeguards can be put in place to prevent the rare instance where this event occurs." He said the agency anticipates having this review completed within the next 90 days.

Other testimony challenged how effective the agency's existing safeguards are in preventing unfair treatment of detainees and illegal removals of U.S. citizens.

Safeguards to detect mental or emotional impairments among detainees were not mentioned in Mead's written or oral testimony, nor was he specifically asked about such guidelines by committee members. But witnesses from human rights groups and lawyers testified that they believe the lack of such screens could be among the reasons that Guzman was removed.

Rachel Rosenbloom, a lawyer with the Center for Human Rights and International Justice at Boston College, said in her written testimony that no such safeguards exist.

Guzman was sent to Mexico after he signed a document accepting voluntary removal, a process by which Undocumented immigrants can leave the country voluntarily instead of being deported. Immigrants sometimes choose the option to make re-entry to the U.S. easier. The Department of Homeland Security reported that 965,000 people accepted an offer of voluntary departure in 2005.

Guzman can neither read nor write beyond a second grade level according testimony from his lawyer, James J. Brosnahan. He said that may have been the reason he signed the request for voluntary removal in which he claimed Mexican nationality. Rosenbloom testified that the Sheriff's department administrator who obtained his signature "checked a box indicating that Mr. Guzman had read the statement himself, in Spanish."

Mead testified that Guzman "claimed" he was a Mexican national but he did not specify how Guzman made that claim.

When King asked if there is any way cases like Guzman's could be a pattern, Mead said, "We don't think so, Mr. Congressman."

Rosenbloom said that mistakes like those that led to Guzman's removal are "inevitable" under U.S. deportation laws.

Chief among her concerns was the fact that a person threatened with removal has no right to government-appointed council.

Mead did not directly challenge Rosenbloom's claim, but he did say that detainees are offered phone numbers for free legal aid and embassies as well as access to free phones. Such access to phones and legal aid were not mentioned in his written testimony.
In her testimony, Rosenbloom said that no family or attorney was present during Guzman's proceedings

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