Jakadrien Turner has made national headlines for being wrongfully deported to Colombia by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). Now heading home on a plane back from South America, she is expected to land in Dallas at 7pm tonight, according to NBC News. Her imminent arrival comes after many months of aggressive searching for Jakadrien by her grandmother, Lorene Turner, who has accused ICE of making a major mistake in deporting a 15-year-old African-American to a strange county.
“They didn’t do their work. How do you deport a teenager and send her to Colombia without a passport, without anything?,” Turner asked in a Dallas-area television news report.
Yet the federal agency maintains that the girl intentionally lied about her identity throughout the deportation process.
Using the alias Tika Lanay Cortez, Jakadrien told Houston police that she was a native of Colombia after an arrest for a minor theft in April 2011. ICE claims that her use of this fabricated identity — and her failure to clarify her citizenship status despite ample opportunity — are the true factors behind the girl’s expatriation.
Jakadrien Turner was reported missing by her Dallas-area relatives in November 2010. In addition to working with authorities, her grandmother mounted a search for the girl using Facebook and discovered that she was in Colombia. After working with Dallas police to pinpoint Jakadrien ’s exact location, Turner spurred U.S. officials to ask the Colombian government to bring Jakadrien into custody. Jakadrien — who is now pregnant — was found by authorities and held in detention for a little over a month before being placed on a plane to America a few hours ago.
How an African-American teenager who spoke no Spanish got from Dallas to Colombia was a mystery to her grandmother and local police.
This puzzle was solved by the discovery that the troubled young woman had spent time living in Houston under an alias as a runaway. She had left home under duress caused by her parents’ divorce and her grandfather’s death.
While in Houston, Jakadrien was arrested for a minor theft and convicted. Officials of the Houston Police department contend the youth used the name Tika Lanay Cortez throughout her arrest, trial and eventual jail intake.
In a statement released by Houston Police Depart Chief Charles A. McClelland, Jr., the officer confirms that Jakadrien’s false identity was accepted as truth:
On April 2, 2011, a female suspect was arrested by HPD officers for Class B misdemeanor theft. The female told the arresting officers she was a native of Colombia and that her name was Tika Lanay Cortez, born on March 24, 1990.
ICE officials also confirmed to theGrio that, “this individual was arrested by the Houston police department. In her booking with that department, Jakadrien told officers that she was a foreign national and gave police a birthdate in the 1990s.”
After going through her trial, Jakadrien served jail time. At no point did she reveal her true identity — not even to her lawyer.
As her sentence was nearing completion, ICE encountered her as part of a program that seeks to remove foreign nationals from the prison population. After being taken into ICE custody, Jakadrien was ordered for removal from the U.S. by an immigration judge.
The agency claims that it went through its normal checklist of procedures when processing a foreign national, including running fingerprints and checking databases against the records of known foreign nationals. Nothing came back to invalidate Jakadrien’s claim that she was Colombian.
ICE states that it is common for foreign nationals to lack verifying identification, or for there to be no information in U.S. systems that can confirm an illegal’s status, because of the nature in which many of them arrive here. Covert means of entry often precludes the ability of the government to attain any data about such individuals. Thus, it was not unusual from the perspective of ICE that Jakadrien did not have any accessible records that contradicted her story.
ICE asserts that if Jakadrien had divulged her true identity during her crimminal trial, this could have halted her deportation. Many mistakenly believe that if they claim illegal status they will avoid jail time if convicted of a crime, the agency explained as a possible motivation for Jakadrien’s misrepresentations.
For Jakadrien, despite her claims of being a foreign national, her conviction resulted in a term of “two to three days,” according to Harris County Jail officials.
Alan Bernstein, the Director of Public Affairs for the Harris County Sheriff’s Office, confirmed to theGrio that when Jakadrian was booked and brought to the county jail, she used the name Tika Lanay Cortez.
“Whatever name was given by her mother or grandmother in Dallas,” Bernstein said, “We don’t know that name. Whatever her real name is, we don’t know and I don’t know how we could.”
Bernstein stated that, because Jakadrien had no identification and her fingerprints did not match any records, there was no way for the institution to verify or deny her identity, except based on her word.
“Whoever she is, those fingerprints had not been dealt with before. There was no match,” Bernstein insisted. “When she was booked at Harris County Jail, she gave her location of origin as a city in Colombia,” he added.
For these reasons, Jakadrien was flagged as a possible foreign national who was approached by employees of the Harris County Jail who investigate suspicious persons on behalf of ICE.
After being transferred into ICE custody, Jakadrien was determined to be a foriegn national by an immigration judge. Proceedings began for her deportation to Colombia, which included having her Colombian idenity verified by the Colombian Consulate.
ICE maintains that the Colombian Consulate’s confirmation of Jakadrien’s status as a Colombian citizen made her deportation possible. Colombian authorities approved Jakadrien’s removal to their country, providing her with full citizenship and a work card upon arrival.
In a statement released to the press, Gillian Brigham of ICE Media Relations addressed accusations that Jakadrien’s deportation had any racial motivation, explaining:
ICE takes its responsibility to verify the immigration status of individuals in the agency’s custody very seriously. These determinations are not made based on race, ethnicity or language abilities, but rather by documentation verifying the immigration status.
ICE also seeks to clarify that, ”[m]edia reporting that she had assumed the name of an existing Colombian citizen with outstanding criminal warrants is incorrect.” Many news outlets have repeated this detail from the original report on Jakadrien’s deportation.
Calls placed to Jakadrien’s grandmother and her attorneys regarding her case were not returned.
Follow Alexis Garrett Stodghill on Twitter at @lexisb