A child in a foreign land

January 17, 2012

Jason Netek and Nicole Colson report on the case of a missing Dallas teen--a U.S. citizen--who was recently discovered to have been mistakenly deported.

IN A disturbing case that highlights the "deport first, ask questions later" mentality of the federal government's Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency, a Dallas teenager--a U.S. citizen--was recently discovered in Colombia, where she had been deported more than a year before.

In November 2009, then-14-year-old Jakadrian Turner ran away from her Dallas home, reportedly upset over the death of her grandfather and her parents' divorce. The Turner family spent the bulk of 2011 searching for Jakadrian. Her grandmother scoured the Facebook pages of friends and strangers, hoping to find evidence that the missing teen was alive.

Their efforts eventually lead them to Houston, Texas, where they believed the girl was working at a music club. Attempts were made to get Houston authorities to investigate, but they either couldn't find her, or didn't try.

It wasn't until December 2011 that the Turners would finally find out what happened to Jakadrian: The African American teen, who speaks no Spanish, had been deported to Colombia.

Jakadrien Turner arriving home in Texas, standing with her grandmother (left)
Jakadrien Turner arriving home in Texas, standing with her grandmother (left)

Houston police arrested Jakadrien for shoplifting in early April 2010, and she reportedly gave them a fake name: Tika Lanay Cortez. According to reports, the name happened to match up with a 22-year-old undocumented immigrant from Colombia who had a warrant out for her arrest. ICE officials dispute this, claiming the teen gave a fake name and said she was from Colombia in order to be deported to Colombia on purpose.

Court records indicate Jakadrian was charged, tried and served time under the name Tika Lanay Cortez for shoplifting. She was later placed under the custody of ICE and, in April 2010, subsequently deported--even though the agency knew her fingerprints didn't match up with the name she gave.

It's more than unsettling that a young girl would be deported from her home to a foreign land where she has no family--whether or not, as some have suggested, Jakadrian was voluntarily running away. As her grandmother, Lorene Turner, told WFAA News, "[Officials] didn't do their work. How do you deport a teenager and send her to Colombia without a passport, without anything?"

As it turns out, Jakadrien was reportedly given travel documents by the Colombian consulate in Houston and, upon arriving in the country, was granted citizenship and placed in a program for reintegrating people who actually are citizens of Columbia and have been sent back to their homeland.

Recent reports suggest the teen worked at a call center while in Colombia. She was finally deported from Colombia back to the U.S. in early January after her grandmother tracked her down via Facebook, and news of her story broke. But first, she was arrested by Colombian officials and spent a month in detention.

MANY OF the details of the case aren't yet public, and it remains unclear whether Jakadrian was indeed attempting to run away to a foreign country when she was deported, or how she came up with the name she used in police custody.

But one fact is clear: that police turned over, and ICE deported, a 14-year-old African American girl who didn't speak Spanish, believing her to be a 22-year-old Colombian immigrant.

While some-right wing news outlets and commenters have claimed that Jakadrian was "asking for it" by giving a fake name to police, it should be considered unconscionable that the U.S. government could fail in such a profound way at every level. Authorities have said they found nothing to indicate that Jakadrien "wasn't a Colombian woman," and apparently, that's all it takes to be deported from the U.S.

Even if Jakadrian had objected to her deportation, there's likely little that she could have done to stop it. As Jacqueline Stevens, a political science professor at Northwestern University and expert on immigration issues, told the Associated Press:

Often in these situations, they have these group hearings where they tell everybody you're going to be deported. Everything is really quick, and even if you understand English, you wouldn't understand what is going on. If she were in that situation as a 14 year old, she would be herded through like cattle, and not have a chance to talk to the judge about her situation.

The Obama administration has been especially aggressive about ramping up the number of deportations, reaching a 60-year record of more than 1 million deportations and counting during his term in office so far. Given this climate, it should come as no surprise that what happened to Jakadrian Turner is not an isolated "mistake."

According to the New York Times, 82 people who were held for deportation from 2006 to 2008 at two immigration detention centers in Arizona for periods as long as a year were freed after immigration judges determined that they were actually American citizens.

On November 4, 2011, Antonio Montejano, a Los Angeles resident and U.S. citizen, was arrested on a minor shoplifting charge while out Christmas shopping. Montejano, who had no prior criminal history, maintained that the bottle of cologne his daughter got into his bag by mistake.

It's a sign of a profoundly racist society that Montejano needed to produce a valid driver's license and the proper "papers" in order to prove his citizenship. But what defies belief is that Montejano was still denied bail and held for five days before finally being released. The reason? Montejano's name came up for a match in a Homeland Security database after having not been corrected back in 1996 when he was mistakenly deported to Mexico.

Accidentally deporting a citizen once is enough to give an agency a bad name, but to do so as often as ICE does shows clearly that this is a bigger issue than simple bureaucratic incompetence. The Christian Science Monitor recently reported that 1 percent of those detained and deported in any given year are actually American citizens, and that some 20,000 citizens have been deported since 2003.

Any agency that can accidentally deport thousands of citizens, not to mention a 14-year-old child, cannot be trusted to act in a just manner. In fact, most often, ICE acts as a blunt instrument of terror, utilized against anyone unfortunate enough to get caught trying to work in the U.S. without permission. Such is the real purpose of ICE and of "border enforcement" more generally.

While Jakadrian Turner's family is now celebrating her return home, ICE policies continue to be a source of woe for many thousands more families, documented and not, who commit the "crime" of living in the United States while being non-white.

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