Mistakenly deported US teen coming home. Was she victim or adventurer?

Jakadrien Turner was deported last year to Colombia after she gave a false name to law enforcement. Officials tracked the girl down about a month ago, and she'll return to the US Friday.

Courtesy of WFAA-TV/AP
This undated file photo shows Jakadrien Turner, a Texas teen who ran away from her Dallas home in the fall of 2010.

A 15-year-old Dallas girl who had told US immigration officials she was a 21-year-old immigrant is on her way back to the United States after being deported to Colombia.

Jakadrien Turner's family has threatened to sue the US immigration system for failing to spot her ruse, especially since, according to the family, she didn't speak Spanish. Meanwhile, Texas police are considering whether to charge her with identity theft upon her return.

Jakadrien, known to family and friends as Kay-Kay, ran away from her Dallas home in the fall of 2010. After moving to Houston, she worked in a nightclub under a fake name. In the first part of 2011, she was arrested for shoplifting in Houston, and she told law enforcement that she was Tika Lanay Cortez – a Colombian woman born in 1990.

On May 23, 2011, Jakadrien was deported by a federal immigration judge.

Spurred by pleas and Facebook leads from the family, the Dallas Police Department, working in conjunction with Colombian and US officials, tracked the girl down about a month ago to where she was living in Bogotá.

The fact that a Dallas teen could convincingly turn herself into a Colombian expatriate does raise questions about gaps in a fast-moving US immigration system, which last year deported a record 400,000 people.

"Somewhere the ball was dropped," Ray Jackson, the family's attorney, told CNN. "You know, kids are scared when they get around authorities.... To think that you could bamboozle them to create a new identity, it just doesn't make sense."

According to US Immigration and Customs Enforcement, immigration officials believed Jakadrien 's story because she never wavered from her false identity. "At no time during these criminal proceedings was her identity determined to be false," the agency said in a statement.

Some legal experts say that Jakadrien could well have invited deportation to avoid facing her family and the prospect of a juvenile delinquency prosecution. Also, those who have taken a close look at the case say it's not crazy to think that the possibility of an international adventure in Colombia could appeal to a runaway who had shown enough maturity and wherewithal to survive on her own for a year on the streets of Houston.

The situation points up some of the difficulties of verifying identification in immigration cases.

“If Turner did not contest her identity or her deportation, it's hard to see what immigration officials should have done differently,” writes legal expert Ted Frank on the PointofLaw.com blog, which examines contemporary legal issues. “There isn't a national biometric database of teenagers' ... fingerprints ... and, normally, we think that to be a good thing.”

He concludes, “Unless we're going to stop deporting people entirely, there's no cost-effective means, short of infringing on the privacy rights of hundreds of millions of Americans, of preventing a Jakadrien Turner from deceiving immigration officials.”

Upon her deportation, Jakadrien was accepted into the Colombia government's expatriate “Welcome Home” program. At least as evidenced by Facebook posts, she lived an adventuresome life, partying and smoking pot with adults during her off-hours from cleaning a mansion. She became pregnant while in Colombia.

Her family believes she attempted to reach out to family members through Facebook, primarily by listing the names of people she met at parties. Her family has not spoken to her since she ran away and did not attempt to contact her through Facebook. They worried she had become a victim of a human trafficking ring.

"I didn't want to scare her or get her in trouble with those who had her," Lorene Turner, her grandmother, told the Associated Press. "She didn't have any reason to leave. She lived in a nice home [with her mother and stepfather]. We were very close. I don't know why she left."

While US authorities continue to investigate Jakadrien's deportation, the Colombia Ministry of Foreign Affairs said attorneys at the country's consulate in Texas had been fired for making a sworn declaration on a provisional passport application on the basis of "inexact information."

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to CSMonitor.com.