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The deportation of Jakadrien Turner

Jakadrien Turner, an African-American 14-year-old runaway from Dallas, was arrested for shoplifting hundreds of miles away in Houston. Rather than tell police who she was and risk being sent back home, she gave them the name of a 22-year-old Colombian. Houston police determined that the 22-year-old was subject to a deportation order, and transferred Turner to federal authorities, who deported her to Colombia. Several months later, Turner contacted her grandmother through Facebook, and the story has hit the media, and people are outraged. [WFAA; Gawker; Likko]

I don't think we have enough facts yet to be outraged at the deportation. It seems very improbable that authorities would knowingly deport an American citizen; as it is, illegal aliens can use the legal process to delay deportation for years and there are 1.1 million unenforced deportation orders. I am willing to wager money that when all the facts come out, Turner never told state or federal authorities her true identity or contested her deportation to Colombia. Teens—especially the sort who view themselves mature enough to run away from home—often have fake ID. Turner could well have decided, once she learned she was subject to deportation, that it was better to compound the lie and have the adventure of going to Colombia than facing the wrath of her family, the risk of juvenile delinquency prosecution, or even whatever was waiting for her if she was released from jail to the Houston streets. The fact that Turner waited several months after arriving in Colombia to express concern to her family (all the while participating on Facebook posing as a 21-year-old) suggests an element of preference to being in Colombia rather than having her family get her home: Colombia isn't a North Korean gulag.

Perhaps this isn't so. Perhaps Turner was being forcibly prevented from contacting her family once she was deported. Perhaps several American officials callously ignored pleadings of mistaken identity; if so, heads should roll. But there are very many more voluntary teenage runaways than involuntarily deported English-speaking American citizens; very few immigration officials have the incentive to risk their careers to deport an American citizen. So the smart money is on the voluntary deportation theory.

If Turner did not contest her identity or her deportation, it's hard to see what immigration officials should have done differently. There isn't a national biometric database of teenagers' (much less illegal aliens') fingerprints, DNA, dental records, or government microchip implants—and, normally, we think that to be a good thing. There's no reason to question the identity of someone who assumes an identity simultaneously with the adverse consequences that go along with that identity; there isn't even a reason to do so in the future, because the costs of doing so almost certainly outweigh the benefits of the extraordinarily rare scenario of a Jakadrien Turner. 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.

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Rafael Mangual
Project Manager,
Legal Policy

Manhattan Institute


Published by the Manhattan Institute

The Manhattan Insitute's Center for Legal Policy.