The Ithaca man arrested by immigration agents in the spring will be sentenced in federal court on Friday after pleading guilty to possessing a fake green card, as new court documents shed light on the man’s life in Mexico, where he was shot twice, and his “treacherous” journey to the United States more than a decade ago.
José Guzman-Lopez, the 32-year-old undocumented immigrant whose arrest by Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents in May sparked outrage from many politicians and residents of Ithaca, which calls itself a sanctuary city, has been in federal custody for more than five months.
Guzman-Lopez’s lawyers, arguing that he should receive no further sentence, said the time he has already spent in jail is sufficient punishment for possessing a counterfeit alien registration card, commonly referred to as a green card.
Judge Thomas J. McAvoy will sentence Guzman-Lopez in federal court in Binghamton at noon on Friday, following the 32-year-old’s admission that he had the fake document in his pocket when ICE agents arrested him in Ithaca on May 2.
Guzman-Lopez was born in Juxalja, a town in the southern Mexican state of Chiapas, which borders Guatemala, his lawyers said in court. He left his parents, who work as coffee farmers, at 9 years old to flee violence against Mayan ethnic groups in the state, including the Tzeltal people, of which Guzman-Lopez is a member. He began attending a boarding school in Zinacantán, six hours from his home, his lawyers said. His uncle was later killed in the conflict.
Guzman-Lopez was shot twice during “bouts of random street violence” after graduating from the boarding school and enrolling in high school and college in Mexico City, his federal public defenders, Martin Wolfson and Lisa A. Peebles, said. Once, a bullet grazed his leg while he was walking to school, and, in a separate incident, he was at work when a bullet grazed his right shoulder.
A desire to escape the violence and provide for his family led Guzman-Lopez to make a “treacherous journey” to the United States, his lawyers said, although they did not elaborate on how he immigrated to the U.S. An ICE spokesman, Khalid Walls, previously told The Sun that Guzman-Lopez immigrated to the country illegally.
He first moved to New Jersey and, several months later, moved to Ithaca, where he has lived for about 11 years, his lawyers said. He worked six days each week for 12 hours each day and, for five years, lived alone with his cat.
“This has been his life for over a decade,” Wolfson and Peebles said.
What put Guzman-Lopez on ICE’s radar was a drunken brawl in 2013 in which a man was stabbed with a kitchen steak knife in an Ithaca apartment and transported to Upstate University Hospital in Syracuse. The 26-year-old victim, in a statement to police at the time, said he was fighting with Guzman-Lopez at his apartment when he was stabbed, but said he did not know who had stabbed him and that it was not Guzman-Lopez.
Ithaca Police arrested Guzman-Lopez hours after the altercation and accused him of stabbing the unnamed victim, but prosecutors never indicted him because of a lack of evidence. On June 30, Guzman-Lopez pleaded guilty to a much-reduced charge of disorderly conduct, said Jeffrey Walker, an Ithaca lawyer who represented Guzman-Lopez in that case.
His federal public defenders said in court that Guzman-Lopez was walking to pay his phone bill when ICE agents, who had been surveilling his house, arrested him on Cascadilla Street and searched him. When they found the fake green card, Guzman-Lopez admitted it was a fake document, his lawyers said.
“Jose has called the United States home for over a decade,” Wolfson and Peebles, his federal public defenders, told the court. “All of his friends are in the United States. His estranged wife is in the United States. Jose was part of the social fabric of his community.”
Regardless of the sentence issued on Friday, Guzman-Lopez will still be facing deportation and will go through immigration court with a new attorney. He is currently in the custody of U.S. Marshals in the Cayuga County Jail.