Monday, April 13, 2009

AP on deportation of American citizens

On my first time back on American soil after the 9/11 attacks, a customs agent at San Francisco's airport asked me, "if you don't even live here anymore, why do you bother to keep your US citizenship?" 

If I'd been asked that before 9/11, I might have gotten in touch with the agent's supervisor. But from September 11 onward, I was afraid of underestimating what I assumed to be a grave national mood, based on conversations with fellow American citizens in Seoul (including a friend-and-future-girlfriend who thought her own family was freaking out), discussions with my family members in California and Minnesota, and what I'd seen on TV — particularly comedy programs that had taken on a somber tone. 

I was also afraid I could get in trouble with a touchy, if not trigger-happy, Federal bureaucracy that may have felt that there was no such thing as doing too much in the name of national security. 

So my hearty "Screw you!" would never come. Nor would my speech that some six million Americans choose for whatever reason to live abroad, and I — we! — should not have to explain ourselves. Living in Seoul was as much my right as living in Seattle, Sioux Falls, or Saratoga. 

Where am I going with this? I guess what I'm getting at is that the comment upset me. What if our government went all out in the wake of 9/11 and decided to start putting Americans inpatriotic and not-so-patriotic piles. As someone who has lived over a third of his life outside the US, would someone decide I should be stripped of my citizenship? I'd be lost without my Americanness. I could get ROK citizenship in a heartbeat — and doing so would make my life simpler — but I would never imagine doing it if it required giving up my US passport. 

And that's something in the back of my mind as I read the story of Pedro Guzman and others like him:
Pedro Guzman has been an American citizen all his life. Yet in 2007, the 31-year-old Los Angeles native — in jail for a misdemeanor, mentally ill and never able to read or write — signed a waiver agreeing to leave the country without a hearing and 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 the city of Tijuana, its hospitals and morgues, clutching his photo in her hand. He was finally found trying to cross the border at Calexico, 100 miles away.

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 over the past eight years. A monthslong AP investigation has documented 55 such cases, on the basis of interviews, lawsuits and documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act. These citizens are detained for anything from a day to five years. Immigration lawyers say there are actually hundreds of such cases.
That is so scary as to be unimaginable. Cheech Marin played this for laughs in his 1980s video "Born in East L.A." where he's caught up in an INS raid and shipped off to Baja and has to sneak his way back in. 

It also reminds me of the case discussed in the Asia-related blogs in 2006, of a twenty-something Japanese woman in Japan's Saitama Prefecture (where "Y" is from) who was arrested by the police who thought she looked like a foreigner

I don't really know how to end this open-ended post, except to say that it's bad enough that xenophobia prevails in so many countries, but perhaps even worse when the xenophobia is applied to actual citizens. 


  1. This is old news. Do a search of "Pedro Guzman Tijuana" and you'll see it is nearly two years old.

    It only came out again because of this past week’s political talk about Obama granting amnesty to those currently residing in the U.S. illegally as he pushes for a new immigration reform bill later this year. Again, you can find that currently on the web. I wonder who is behind the AP and other sources are bringing this up again right now.

    It’s a shame what happened to this man and the others, but it’s also a shame that they are being used as well. Life is a bitch without easy answers.

    John from Daejeon

  2. This is old news. Do a search of "Pedro Guzman Tijuana" and you'll see it is nearly two years old.

    That's true. I remembering reading about Mr Guzman several times in the past. The "news" right now is the "monthslong AP investigation" that has documented over fifty such cases, demonstrating that Guzman's case is not some isolated phenomenon.

    I'm not so sure if this is at all connected with the Obama administration's recent talk of pushing for immigration reform (which I had planned to blog about later). First, this news is a months-long investigation, which would have its own timetable. Second, while Obama may be planning to push immigration this year, it won't come until the summer, when Guzman's case will no longer be fresh in people's memory.

    Third, what happened to Guzman ultimately does not make for good fodder in pushing the case of immigration reform, since Guzman was always a US citizen.

    It is only peripherally related, because it can make the case for an overzealous ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement). In the OC Register link above, an ICE official testified before Congress, "To the best of my knowledge, only one U.S. citizen was removed," of the 280,000 deported that year. But, as the AP is reporting, a more accurate picture is one out of every several thousand or so that are forcibly deported are American citizens. Maybe, if some of the immigration lawyers are right, one in 1000 or 2000.

    You could be right that they are "being used," but I give the ACLU more credit than that. It sometimes is necessary to put a human face on a larger problem, and if Guzman and his family are willing to be that public face, I don't have much of a problem with it.

  3. "if Guzman and his family are willing to be that public face, I don't have much of a problem with it."

    I doubt he knows what is going on with "his" story, but his family may be benefitting from it. And the ACLU and LULAC are far from being all peaches and cream.

    John from Daejeon

  4. i don't like the attitude of pseudo-racist white trash that 'john from daejeon' purports to be.
    is he not a dude that has profited from the theft of land from America's native peoples?
    Are you an Indian, John?
    dont sound like no traditional redskin name to me you.

  5. Emily,

    Daejeon is in South Korea where I currently reside on this orb of ours. I actually have sangre de Espana (not Mexico, and not by no means my choice) in my veins even though my family is from Tamulipas, Mexico, and I was born in Texas. Yes, I am un hombre, and the land stolen in that part of the Americas was of Aztec and Mayan origin. Also, the name John, instead of Juan, was given to me by my father to make my acceptance into the U.S. easier as his name was a hindrance to his livelihood.

    I just pointed out that this is article is really old news and that the human at the center of it probably has no idea what is being written, and used, in his name.

    John from Daejeon

  6. I think you both make good points, but ultimately we have to ask ourselves, "What can we do about it and what will we do about it?" I'm currently going to school in Hawaii, a land that was stolen from its people just as much as any other part of the US.

    Efforts to allow the indigenous people to live happily and healthy in their own culture can only go so far. Are we to all leave the islands? Do we all vacate the Southwest?

    California, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, Nevada, Utah, and Colorado were stolen from Mexico. Mexico wrested it from Spain, which had conquered the Aztecs.

    But the Aztecs never controlled Texas. There you find different Native groups: Alabama, Apache, Aranama, Atakapa, Caddo, Comanche, Coahuiltecan, Cherokee, Choctaw, Coushatta, Hasinai, Jumano, Karankawa, Kickapoo, Kiowa, and Wichita. Even the Cherokee and the Chocktaw (?) weren't originally from there.

    The Aztecs and Mayas themselves were the Mongol Horde of their day, just with better architecture and more centralization. They conquered other peoples, too.

    I'm not saying to justify what the Spaniards, Portuguese, French, British, Dutch, and later Americans did to the indigenous people, just that it's a historical cycle that we have no control over because it's in the past. What we can control is respect and care for indigenous people, if that's what you're getting at.

    But again, this is not so much about that as it is about American institutional bigotry when it comes to immigration and treatment of non-White US citizens.

    And emily, try to be a little nicer. Pretty please?

  7. I should point out that "emily" was almost certainly the sock of a certain Berkeley graduate who has it in for me. I apologize to John from Taejŏn for not picking up on that sooner.


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