Deported teen returns to US. How many Americans are mistakenly banished?
Jakadrien Turner's deportation has shined a light on an immigration system in which mistakes can and do happen. Experts worry that the rate of mistaken deportations is on the uptick.
Whether 15-year-old Dallas teen Jakadrien Turner sought deportation or got caught up in a fast-moving US immigration bureaucracy remains in question as the girl returned to the United States late Friday after an eight-month banishment to Colombia.Skip to next paragraph
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The girl was reunited Friday with her family for the first time since running away from her Dallas home in the fall of 2010. “She's happy to be home,” the family's attorney told reporters as Jakadrien left Dallas-Forth Worth International Airport at about 10 p.m., flanked by her family and police.
But the known facts of her case, namely that an American kid who didn't speak Spanish ended up on a plane to Colombia within six weeks of being arrested in Houston for shoplifting, are reviving questions about the frequency of mistaken or accidental deportations of US citizens. Some suggest that mistakes are on the uptick as US authorities have notched record deportation levels in recent years.
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“Clearly, U.S.-born citizens can't be detained by immigration officials, much less deported by the Department of Homeland Security,” writes the Los Angeles Times in an editorial about Jakadrien's journey. “But it seems to be happening with greater frequency.”
People who are indigent, mentally disturbed, ex-convicts, or those who were born in the US but can't easily prove it are usually the most susceptible to mistaken deportations, which in the most egregious cases critics liken to state-sanctioned kidnapping. One study published last year looking at cases in which deported Americans have later been able to prove they're US citizens contends that about 1 percent of those detained and deported in any given year are, in fact, Americans. That's about 20,000 people since 2003, it concludes.
In recent months, major news organizations, including The New York Times, have published exposés about programs like Secure Communities, a national fingerprint database that local police departments can use to identify undocumented immigrants, and how they have boosted detentions of US citizens. In the past two months, at least four Americans were picked up and detained by US immigration authorities in California before being released. In the majority of those cases, the news organizations have noted, detainees were released, not deported.
Nevertheless, “the truth is that banishment, and in some cases kidnapping, of US citizens by immigration law enforcement agencies is continuing with an alarming, albeit underreported, frequency,” according to a study published last year in The Virginia Journal of Social Policy & the Law. “US citizens who previously had been housed and self-sufficient or cared for by their families have been found bathing in the Tijuana River and eating garbage, ... obtaining nourishment and liquid from roadside cans in El Salvador, and, in a somewhat surreal reversal, eking out livings as day laborers in Mexico or telemarketing in the Dominican Republic.”
In past cases, US authorities have acknowledged that the massive immigration bureaucracy is not foolproof, and that the complexity of many such proceedings can lead to mistakes, especially when US citizens, as in Jakadrien's case, waive their rights and clear their own way for deportation. Critics, however, say such mistakes point to systemic flaws, compounded by the curtailment of due process in immigration courts, that need to be resolved.