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Mentally Disabled Man Faces Expulsion from US

Guillermo Peralta poses with his pro-bono lawyer, Craig Shagin, at the entrance of the U.S. Immigration Court in Philadelphia.
Guillermo Peralta poses with his pro-bono lawyer, Craig Shagin, at the entrance of the U.S. Immigration Court in Philadelphia.
Mentally Disabled Man Faces Expulsion from US
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Guillermo Peralta Martinez does not know how old he is or where he was born. He does not even know his mother’s name.

He also does not know if he is a legal resident of the United States.

Martinez appears to be in his 30s. He is mentally disabled and has difficulty speaking. Many people have trouble understanding the few words and sentences he speaks in Spanish.

Shown standing at the entrance to his apartment, Guillermo Peralta was arrested by immigration agents on his way to work last February.
Shown standing at the entrance to his apartment, Guillermo Peralta was arrested by immigration agents on his way to work last February.

Yet he has made friends in York Springs, Pennsylvania. Some people there say he has lived in the town since at least the 1990s -- and maybe before then.

Earlier this year, agents working for the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency arrested Martinez. He now faces deportation.

ICE officials told VOA that orders signed by President Donald Trump do not list groups of people who may not be deported. In other words, even if a person is mentally disabled, he or she may be expelled.

ICE agents say they arrested Peralta in February as he was preparing to go to work.

ICE says he and another individual were arrested as they were leaving a building where someone who had entered the U.S. illegally lived. It says that person had been found guilty of a crime.

In a report written after Peralta was arrested, the agents said he and the other man admitted they were citizens of Mexico and in the United States illegally.

The men were taken to a detention center in the town of York, about 39 kilometers away. Neither man had a criminal record in the United States.

Peralta remembers “they took my fingerprints. And they put handcuffs on.”

He said he was treated well in the detention center, but he felt mixed up.

“I didn’t know what was going to happen to me,” he said.

An arrest order written after Peralta was detained says he made statements “voluntarily to an immigration officer that he lacks immigration status and as such is removable under U.S. immigration law.”

The document states that Peralta said his mother and father are Mexican citizens, that he has a child who lives in Florida and that he has no medical conditions. It says he was 45 years old at the time of his arrest.

Lawyer Craig Shagin is representing Peralta. He disputes the information in the document. He says Peralta often does not know what he is saying.

Shagin said, “When him I met in the York County prison I would ask him: ‘Where do you live?’ and he would say in Spanish ‘Out there.’ I would ask him his birth date and he would say: ‘One and Two.’”

“If you would ask him ‘Were you born in Mexico?’ ‘Yes.’ ‘Were you born in Argentina?’ ‘Yes.’ ‘Were you born in Florida?’ ‘Yes.’ Well, there’s a problem there.”

Shagin says someone who knew Peralta when he was a boy claims he is 10 years younger than U.S. officials say he is. He says Peralta was abandoned by his parents. Shagin says Peralta does not have a child. And he says Peralta was not arrested at the place ICE claims.

Witnesses say he was arrested inside an apartment building while he was waiting for a ride to work.

In a court document, Shagin writes: “There is no evidence Peralta was doing anything suspicious. It is unlikely he would have been questioned regarding his citizenship, but for Guillermo’s Hispanic appearance.”

Shagin also says there is no evidence that Peralta was born outside the United States. He says Peralta’s clear “cognitive impairment demonstrates that (his) own statements are potentially unreliable.”

In April, Peralta was freed from jail after making a bail payment and promising to return for his next hearing. He had been in the jail for more than two months.

Marlen Carbajal has known Peralta since 2011. She once lived in York Springs. She says the town’s Hispanic community collected $5,000 in bail money to free him.

Since his release, Peralta has returned to doing whatever work he can find.

“I want to stay here,” he says, but he is afraid of being arrested again.

ICE would not talk about Peralta’s case except to say that he entered the United States illegally.

Peralta’s case is one of many at the U.S. Department of Justice Immigration Court in Philadelphia. As of the end of May, there were 2,536 cases waiting to be heard and decided at the court.

When Peralta and his lawyer appeared in court in August, ICE asked for more time to develop its case. It was given until November 25 to do so.

I’m Phil Dierking.

And I'm Lucija Millonig.

VOA’s Bill Rodgers reported this story from York Springs, Pennsylvania. Christopher Jones-Cruise adapted his report for VOA Learning English. George Grow was the editor.

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Words in This Story

resident – n. someone who lives in a particular place

deport – v. to force (a person who is not a citizen) to leave a country

fingerprints – n. the mark that is made by pressing the tip of a finger on a surface; a mark of this kind made in ink for the purpose of identifying a person

handcuffs – n. a set of two metal rings that are joined and locked around a person’s wrists

status – n. the current state of someone or something -- usually singular

abandon – v. to leave and never return to (someone who needs protection or help)

cognitive – adj. of, relating to, or involving conscious mental activities (such as thinking, understanding, learning, and remembering)

impairment – n. a condition in which a part of your body or mind is damaged and does not work well

unreliable – adj. not able to be trusted to do or provide what is needed or promised; not believable or trustworthy

bail – n. an amount of money given to a court to allow a prisoner to leave jail and return later for a trial