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Lawsuit filed over man deported and lost in Mexico

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - A Los Angeles man with mental problems, who spent three months lost in Mexico after being deported despite being a U.S. citizen, sued homeland security and immigration officials on Wednesday.

Los Angeles-born Peter Guzman, 30, was deported to Tijuana in May 2007 after serving time in jail for trespassing. His family spent three months looking for him in hospitals, jails, shelters and morgues in the border town.

Guzman, described by his family as struggling with basic reading, writing and memory, survived by begging, washing in the Tijuana river and sleeping outdoors, the lawsuit said.

“Immigration and Customs Enforcement put Peter Guzman on a bus with $3 in his pocket and put him out in Tijuana,” said his lawyer, Jim Brosnahan. “With no family or friends in Mexico, he broke down and thought that his country had rejected him.”

The California ICE office described Guzman’s deportation as an exception in the U.S. effort to deal with an estimated 12 million, mostly Latino, illegal immigrants thought to be living in the United States.

The lawsuit, which named Department of Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff and senior immigration officials, was filed in federal court in Los Angeles.

It alleges that Guzman’s deportation was illegal, that he was coerced into waiving his legal rights as a U.S. citizen, and that immigration officials discriminated against him because of his ethnicity.

ICE said in a statement that Guzman had repeatedly told officials he was born in Mexico and had signed a document agreeing to voluntary return.

“This is a one-of-a-kind case. Since ICE was created, the agency’s efforts have ensured that more than 1 million immigration violators have been removed or returned to their home countries,” the ICE statement added.

Guzman was reunited with his family in August 2007 after he was stopped by U.S. border agents while crossing back into California.

In the past year, U.S. agents have stepped up deportations and raids on suspected undocumented workers while efforts to overhaul immigration policy and offer a path to legal status have stalled in the U.S. Congress.

Editing by Dan Whitcomb and Alan Elsner