A 15-year-old African-American girl from Texas was released from a Colombia jail Jan. 6 where she was being held after U.S. authorities deported her in the belief that she was living in the U.S. illegally, according to the Associated Press.
CBS News reported from El Paso, Texas that Jakadrien Lorece Turner arrived in the U.S. within hours of her release en route to her home in Dallas.
According to Turner's family, the teen – distraught over her parents' divorce and other issues – ran away from her Dallas home in 2010 to Houston, where she was arrested on a petty theft charge. The teenager gave police a false name, one that turned out to be on the Department of Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) deportation list.
Apparently, with no rhyme or reason, the girl was deported without any effort to verify her identity.
"The rhyme and reason to me is this is a racial profiling case," said Nicole Lee, president of TransAfrica, the nation’s oldest African-American foreign policy organization, which is pressuring the U.S. government to become more aggressive in its efforts to bring Turner home.
According to the Dallas Morning News, the teen is also pregnant.
Colombia has the third-largest Black population in the hemisphere, and police appear to have assumed Turner was Colombian, even though she does not speak Spanish.
"You just go by what they say?" Lee asked. "You just looked at a name in a database?"
Lee told BlackAmericaWeb.com she was incredulous that police in Texas just took the teen at her word and turned her over to immigration authorities, who deported her without a hearing.
"As African-Americans, we tend to think this isn't our issue, but what this case shows me is that our children are just as vulnerable, and that’s why we need to be on it."
Just as it is possible for someone in the U.S. to be arrested and charged with a crime in cases where someone with the same name or similar description can be mistaken for someone else wanted in connection with a crime, it is especially likely that federal authorities would be quick to deport someone believed to be in the U.S. illegally.
That said, however, Turner was denied due process, Lee maintained.
"Even if she was undocumented, which she was not, even if she spoke Spanish, which she does not, you can’t deport a minor without a proceeding. There's nothing to explain why she was being deported, even though she doesn’t speak the language, except that she's 'the other,'" Lee said. "It's clear the child lied, but she's a child, and we would think a child could lose her homeland over a lie? Would this have happened to a young, white prep school student? There was no question that this child doesn’t speak Spanish, and we’re about to deport her?"
Further, Lee said, once the mistake was realized, "why didn’t embassy officials go and get her instead of sending the Colombian police? She needs to be brought home."
TransAfrica is calling on the U.S. and Colombian authorities to expedite Turner's return to the U.S. and urging Americans to call the Colombian embassy in Washington and the U.S. State Department – particularly Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's office – to urge a quick resolution to the case.
Lee said she also expects Congress to conduct an investigation into ICE's conduct not only in Turner's case, but into whether and how many similar deportations may have occurred.
"The level of discretion is just so huge" in allowing ICE to determine who gets deported and when with little public scrutiny, she said.
"We certainly hold undocumented immigrants up to close scrutiny when we get hold of them and, in many ways, dehumanize them to the extent that something like this (with Turner) could happen," Lee said.
Danny Glover, chairman of the board for TransAfrica, said in a statement, "Without proper verification and a better system of processing people, this could happen to anyone's child. It is time to reform our immigration laws and be honest about the toll this inhumane system is taking on families here and abroad."