West Jordan • Brenda Guzman’s five children — ages 1 to 6 — stood shyly before TV cameras Wednesday as activists asked officials publicly not to deport their mother, who immigrated illegally when she was 6. They say it shows why Congress needs to enact compassionate immigration reform to keep families together.
But critics say Guzman’s brushes with the law, including guilty pleas for attempted forgery and identify theft, are what has landed her in trouble.
The episode began Wednesday when friends of Guzman were told that she had been tricked while in custody into signing a voluntary deportation order — supposedly being told that giving an electronic signature on a machine was to release property to her. They say she could be deported as early as Thursday, leaving behind her five U.S. citizen children.
“We feel the pain,” a crying Raymi Guiterrez with the Salt Lake Dream Team told a news conference, outside the office of Rep. Jim Matheson, D-Utah — after making pleas for help to Utah’s congressional delegation. “We want the community to know what these families are going through — that the broken immigration system is going to take the mother” of the children.
She said Guzman, 22, could qualify to stay here through the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program — because she was brought into the country when she was 6 years old. But Gutierrez said officials are trying to deport her quickly “to meet quotas,” and are considering nonviolent misdemeanors she committed as felonies for immigration purposes.
But she acknowledges Guzman ran into trouble because of brushes with the law. Gutierrez said Guzman was faced with eviction, so she attempted to obtain a payday loan by using a made-up Social Security number. The lender caught it and notified police, and she later pleaded guilty to Class A misdemeanors for attempted fraud and identity theft. She was sentenced to a work program.
But court records show she missed court appearances to report on her work, so an arrest warrant was issued. As Guzman was later being evicted from her apartment, Utah County sheriff’s deputies discovered the arrest warrant. Gutierrez said Guzman was taken into custody and turned over to federal immigration officials — but contended she was doing work as ordered.
Court records show it was not Guzman’s first run-in with the law. She also had pleaded guilty in recent years to driving without a license, driving without insurance and speeding — and paid fines. She also had several judgments against her for defaulting on other payday loans and for rent from an apartment complex.
Still, Guzman’s mother, Yolanda Sandoval, said tearfully that her daughter was just trying to help her family and said, “She is not a criminal.”
Ron Mortensen, cofounder of the Utah Coalition on Illegal Immigration, disagrees.
“If an American citizen had committed the same offenses, would you expect them to go to jail — and be separated from their families? Does being here illegally give you special status not to be separated from your family in that case?”
He said because Guzman used a Social Security number that may have belonged to someone else, “Where is the compassion for the victim? Maybe they now have to contend with the bad credit caused by it.”
Mortensen added that Guzman’s deportation doesn’t need to separate the family. “She could take her children with her. Mexico recognizes them as dual citizens, just like children of Americans born abroad are U.S. citizens.”
But Gutierrez said Guzman “is a human being. She makes mistakes,” and was pushed to extremes being undocumented, unemployed and the mother of five who was about to lose her home. She said that may mean she should pay a fine or even do jail time — but not be sent away permanently from her children.
“But in the circumstance of being an undocumented individual, the person is not simply put into jail … they are deported. They are separated from their family, thousands of miles away,” she said. “Look at the humanity of this.”
Andrew Muñoz, spokesman for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, said ICE is not able to comment on Guzman’s case or status.