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Deportation of U.S. Teen to Colombia Latest Failure of Immigration System

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The family of a Dallas teenager Jakadrien Turner is demanding answers after she was deported to Colombia, despite the fact that she is a U.S. citizen and speaks no Spanish. Turner, a 15-year-old African-American runaway, was living in Houston when she was arrested for shoplifting and gave police a fake name that belonged to a 22-year-old undocumented immigrant from Colombia with warrants for her arrest. The Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency (ICE) reportedly discovered Turner’s fingerprints did not match those of the Colombian national, but deported her anyway. “The country has no idea that we have got a rogue police force. That rogue police force is called ICE,” says Ralph Isenberg, a Dallas businessman who has become an advocate for immigrants. “I’m hoping that Black Americans, who have a history of understanding the destruction of our families, because slavery done that to our families, will at some point wake up and understand that the problem of immigrants is something we cannot ignore,” adds Dallas Reverend Peter Johnson, a longtime civil rights advocate who has worked with the Turner family. We also speak with Jacqueline Stevens, a political science professor at Northwestern University who recently published an exhaustive report on U.S. citizens who have been detained and deported. [includes rush transcript]

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

JUAN GONZALEZ: The family of a 15-year-old girl from Dallas, Texas, is demanding answers after she was deported to Colombia, despite the fact that she is a U.S. citizen and speaks no Spanish. Jakadrien Turner reportedly ran away from home more than a year ago after her parents divorced and her grandfather passed away. She was living in Houston when, according to news reports, she was arrested for shoplifting and gave police a fake name that belonged to a 22-year-old undocumented immigrant from Colombia. That’s when the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency, or ICE, got involved. Its agents reportedly took her fingerprints and ran them through their criminal database and biometric verification system. They discovered the prints did not match the name Turner gave them, but they did match a woman who had warrants for her arrest. Despite the lack of a fingerprint match to the name she provided, ICE then deported Jakadrien Turner to Colombia.

Turner’s grandmother spent the last year searching for the teen on the internet and finally tracked her down using Facebook. She was shocked to find she was living in Colombia, reportedly cleaning houses. The girl’s mother, Johnisa Turner, and grandmother, Lorene Turner, spoke to CNN about their confusing ordeal.

LORENE TURNER: You have to have IDs to get, you know, to another country. And I just don’t understand how it could happen. Someone made a goof, and I think it was in ICE or someone. They made—they goofed up.

ED LAVANDERA: It seems like part of you thinks that this isn’t your daughter’s doing.

JOHNISA TURNER: I mean, I feel like she was—she has been coerced. I feel like someone has told her, maybe promised her something, or something. I don’t know. But it’s not her—it’s not her. It’s not her personality. There has to be adults involved. No 14-year-old can change their name and get to Colombia on their own.

AMY GOODMAN: Jakadrien Turner’s grandmother and mother.

Well, the 15-year-old girl may now be on her way back to the United States. She’s expected to be turned over to officials from the U.S. embassy in Colombia later today.

Meanwhile, ICE has issued a statement that the agency, quote, “takes these allegations very seriously. At the direction of [the Department of Homeland Security], ICE is fully and immediately investigating this matter in order to expeditiously determine the facts of this case,” they said.

For more on the case, we go to Dallas, where we’re joined by Reverend Peter Johnson, who has worked with the Turner family through all of this, longtime civil rights leader who is deeply involved in immigrant rights, working on scores of cases with actual immigrants. His history as an activist extends to the 1960s, when was the youngest staff member of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference founded by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. He is the youngest man still alive from King’s original staff.

We’re also joined in Chicago by Jacqueline Stevens, a political science professor of Northwestern University. Her most recent book is States Without Nations: Citizenship for Mortals. She recently published an exhaustive report on U.S. citizens who have been detained and deported.

We welcome you both to Democracy Now! Let’s turn to Reverend Johnson first. How did this happen? Jakadrien, a 15-year-old Dallas girl, is deported to another country, to Colombia?

REV. PETER JOHNSON: Well, first, I appreciate this opportunity. I’m sitting here with my friend Ralph Isenberg, who’s probably the leading voice in America regarding immigration. We’ve probably dealt with 300, maybe 400, cases over the last four years with immigrant families.

It’s impossible for me to say how this happened, other than ICE and the United States government seemed to be committed to deporting as many people a month as they possibly can deport, without any adjudication, not going before a judge, not being charged, just rounding up people and deporting them. And most of the people they are deporting are poor people. To do this to this particular family is indicative of what ICE has been doing for the last four or five years. We can, Ralph and I can, state case after case after case where kids come home from school, mother is not there. Mother never comes back home. ICE have locked the mother up, sent her to a jail, and she is deported. Kids don’t know what happened to their mother. This is typical of ICE: the destruction of families in this society.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Well, but, Reverend Johnson, this—

RALPH ISENBERG: Hello, this is Ralph Isenberg in Dallas.

You know, the thing is, is that everything that could possibly go wrong seems to have gone wrong in this case. I think one thing that’s important that we have to remember is that we’re talking about a minor. And minors are supposed to be protected. So I’m not so certain that it’s wise to go into too many details, because that child has got a life to live yet. And the important thing is, is that we get her home. Clearly, law enforcement is going have to look into what happened and why it happened. You know, we have thousands of people every single day that are deported that don’t want to get deported. My understanding, and apparently it has been verified, is that this young lady, in fact, wanted to be deported versus going home. Now, if she was influenced in that, that has to be looked at, too. But I actually see so much abuse in our system, I understand why she would have been deported. It happens every day.

AMY GOODMAN: Let me ask Reverend Peter Johnson how you and Ralph Isenberg, who is sitting next to you there in Dallas, a Dallas businessman, came to be involved in immigrants’ issues.

REV. PETER JOHNSON: Oh, well, first Ralph and I had worked together in civil rights and social justice and human rights issues for many years. Ralph and I have traveled together and done things all over the South together. For me, it’s all divine. God moves in mysterious ways. Ralph is married to a beautiful girl from China, who one day was picked up by the Dallas Police Department, turned over to ICE, put in a prison 400 miles from Dallas, and eventually deported to China. Ralph, fighting to get his wife, who was pregnant at the time with his little boy, back into the country, eventually moved to China. In fact, I told my friend that I didn’t think I was going to ever see him again, because I knew how much he was committed to his family, and I didn’t think he would ever come back. But he fought with the United States government, the State Department, and eventually got his wife back into the country. But Ralph—

RALPH ISENBERG: Peter, you got about every fact wrong there, but I love you. But the truth of the matter is that, you know, I had my own experience with immigration. It was not very healthy. I was not back in the United States for two days, and an attorney, Ted Cox from New York City, a very good immigration attorney—


RALPH ISENBERG: —called me up and said, “Ralph, do you know that there’s a prison in Texas that has kids in it?” I thought Ted was just joking with me, because I was back, and I had jetlag. And all of a sudden, I’m introduced to Hutto. And I find out that we have 500 kids, three-year-olds, five-year-olds, two to a cell with a toilet in the middle, basically in a maximum security prison, being housed. And these kids haven’t committed any crimes. And for the most part, their families had not committed any crimes. And, you know, I was aghast. You don’t—you don’t jail kids in the United States. We had to put an end to that. With the help of Josh Bardavid, another fine attorney in New York, we were able to shut that place down. And we were in court actually a month and a half before the ACLU.

But that just started opening up the calls that came to my office. And I got Peter involved. Hundreds and hundreds of people in need. You know, someone that’s been in the United States since they’ve been six weeks old, they’re 20 years old, they get picked up, and in a matter of a week’s time they’re deported to Mexico. They don’t even speak Spanish, and they’re in Mexico. We were able to get that man back, Hector Lopez, last year. We have another lady who is married to a U.S. citizen, three beautiful citizen daughters, the Lopez children, and she’s three-and-a-half months pregnant. We have a policy. We’re not supposed to be deporting pregnant people. Last March, she is deported to Mexico. These kids are hysterical.


RALPH ISENBERG: They want their mother home. And yet, you know, in reviewing her case, everyone said that, you know, she was wrong. Well, I found error after error after error that the government had made. In fact, the government performed an illegal search and entry in the home that led to her deportation. We have people on ankle monitors that are released on OR. Now, it’s an oxymoron to say that we’re going to put an ankle monitor on somebody that’s released on OR. We’ve got a suit filed there for cruel and unusual punishment. Imagine having to be plugged into an electric wall plug three hours a day. The number of cases that I’m seeing from across my desk—

JUAN GONZALEZ: Ralph Isenberg—

RALPH ISENBERG: —I’m not—yes?

JUAN GONZALEZ: Ralph Isenberg, I’d like to ask you—you’ve been back and forth to Mexico, as well, in recent years to try to help some of these folks who have been deported. Has there been any change during the period of the Obama administration in terms of how ICE operates? We obviously have seen increases—

RALPH ISENBERG: Oh, yeah, it’s gotten worse.

REV. PETER JOHNSON: It’s gotten worse. That’s been a change.

JUAN GONZALEZ: —in the number of deportations, but what about the change of administration?

RALPH ISENBERG: Obama—you know, you look recently at a statistic coming out of Denver, Colorado, 85 percent of the people deported out of Denver, Colorado, have got no criminal history. We still have in Dallas, Texas, a group from ICE that’s going around and picking up people that have no criminal record, and they’re basically each day getting a couple so they can fill the bus up. And they’re performing illegal searches and entries. And this is happening every single day.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to bring—

RALPH ISENBERG: Just last Thursday, ICE showed up at a home and took—tried to deport a lady who had a seven-year-old son who had cerebral palsy that was a United States citizen. I mean, the country has no idea that we have got a rogue police force. That rogue police force is called ICE.


RALPH ISENBERG: As far as I’m concerned, they’re bullies, and they’re thugs, and they don’t follow the law. They don’t follow the Constitution. And they’ve got free rein on people that really need help.

AMY GOODMAN: We started this conversation—

REV. PETER JOHNSON: We were just in Mexico a couple of weeks ago—

AMY GOODMAN: Reverend Johnson?

REV. PETER JOHNSON: —trying to bring Miss Betty Lopez back, and of course we were stopped at the border with this lady and her family. The family went to spend Thanksgiving with Miss Lopez in Mexico, and a gunfight took place in front of the building they were living in, scared these children to death. These were straight-A children before this happened to this family.

Why we are destroying families in this nation is beyond me. And I’m hoping that Black America, who have a history of understanding the destruction of our families, because slavery done that to our families, will at some point wake up and understand that the problem of immigrants is something we cannot ignore. We must stand up and speak out, because this is a civil rights and a human rights issue that’s directly related to our history.

AMY GOODMAN: We started this conversation—

RALPH ISENBERG: Well, I think, more importantly, it’s probably a constitutional right issue. You cannot illegally search—

AMY GOODMAN: Just one sec—just one second, Ralph. I want to bring in—I want to bring in Jacqueline Stevens, a professor at Northwestern University, who has just published an exhaustive report on U.S. citizens who have been detained and deported. She’s joining us from Chicago. We began the conversation with Jakadrien Turner, 15-year-old girl from Texas, who gives a false name when she’s arrested. She’s afraid. And this name links to a name of an undocumented immigrant. And though they take her fingerprints, and they do biometrics and see she is not that person, she is still deported to Colombia. Her family is looking for her for a year. How typical is this, Jacqueline Stevens?

JACQUELINE STEVENS: Well, I did research in the southern Arizona area to look at the rate at which people who had been detained in that area were found—had their deportation orders terminated by an immigration judge because they were determined to be U.S. citizens. And I found that between 2006 and 2008, 82 out of the over 8,000—the 8,007, I think—files that I considered showed these cases that were terminated because the people were found to be U.S. citizens. That area has 10 percent of the nation’s detainees. And so, I think it’s, you know, reasonable on the basis of that research and additional research, including interviews with immigration judges, ICE agents and people who have actually been deported, to extrapolate that figure. There was also a study that was done by the New York City Bar Association in 2009, and they found that 8 percent of the people that they interviewed in the Varick detention center appeared to be U.S. citizens. So, I think there’s a systemic problem in this country of ICE detaining and, in addition, deporting U.S. citizens.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Now, Professor Stevens—

JACQUELINE STEVENS: And I just want to say something about the 1 percent figure. Some people might think that sounds kind of low. I mean, it’s just 1 percent. But in light of the massive sweeps and deportation efforts by ICE, in absolute numbers that’s an actually quite large number. That works out to thousands of people each year—

JUAN GONZALEZ: But Professor Stevens—

JACQUELINE STEVENS: —who are U.S. citizens who are being detained or deported.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Professor Stevens, when you talk about cases being terminated because they’re found to be U.S. citizens, these are people who may have spent months or years in detention while their cases were being adjudicated?

JACQUELINE STEVENS: That’s absolutely correct. So, these are people who were either in the Florence or Eloy detention centers, and they were detained, in some cases, over a year before they were released. You know, it’s interesting, because on the one hand, in a previous case of Mark Lyttle, who was born in North Carolina and deported to Mexico, ICE tries to justify that by saying, oh, well, you know, based on their documents, which were not reflective of his actual record, an immigration judge ordered his deportation. But there’s a case going on right now in the southern Arizona area involving a man named George Ibarra. An immigration judge terminated his deportation order in February of 2010—sorry, in February of 2011, and yet ICE ignored that and held him in detention and appealed the termination, ignoring the evidence of his U.S. citizenship that he had submitted. So, as the gentlemen were saying in Texas, they do appear—ICE just really does appear to be bent on deporting people regardless of their valid claims to U.S. citizenship.

There’s a case going on right now in—also in southern Arizona involving Esteban Tiznado. And he’s the cousin of a gentleman named Humberto Carrillo Carrillo-Tiznado, who had his U.S. citizenship affirmed in June 2011 based on the same family history that also verifies Esteban Tiznado’s U.S. citizenship. Both of these men had been deported and served—had not only been deported, but they actually, when they returned to the United States, were convicted and served, each, years in prison for illegal reentry. In 2008, Esteban Tiznado again returned, after being deported following serving his prison sentence for illegal reentry, which is predicated on alienage, and at that point he had a very good lawyer, who presented evidence, had a jury trial, as opposed to the plea deal to which Esteban had been encouraged to agree in the previous trial. And the jury unanimously found him not guilty on the basis of the evidence that his lawyer presented of his U.S. citizenship. Nonetheless, after he’s found not guilty, ICE immediately deports him again. And so, you know, he then returned, and now, on the basis of legal work that was done on his behalf by a legal organization in that area, has a habeas order—sorry, a stay on his removal while the federal courts work out the mess that ICE has created.

AMY GOODMAN: And veterans, final—


AMY GOODMAN: Final point on the issue of veterans?

JACQUELINE STEVENS: Excuse me? On the issue of veterans?

AMY GOODMAN: The issue of veterans deported, people—

JACQUELINE STEVENS: People—well, so, George Ibarra was an honorably discharged marine, and he had been deported. There’s also, I guess, thousands of U.S. veterans who are in deportation proceedings or have been deported. There’s an organization that was set up by Manuel Valenzuela and his brother. The Valenzuela brothers is their website. And they’ve documented these cases that involve people who have green cards, served in the military, are honorably discharged, and then, because of a run-in with the law, are put into deportation proceedings. And they, understandably, find this very upsetting, and they’re urging President Obama, after people have served their prison sentences, if they’re veterans, for the President to pardon them, so that these veterans won’t be deported.

AMY GOODMAN: A final comment from Reverend Johnson—is Jakadrien—


AMY GOODMAN: We only have 30 seconds, but is Jakadrien expected to reunite with her family soon?

REV. PETER JOHNSON: From what we can understand, that she will be turned over in Colombia to the United States embassy and brought back to America. So that’s the information that we’ve been given.

RALPH ISENBERG: But I want to add, how do you—how do you justify someone that was selling cocaine or crack to kids afterwards being allowed to stay in this country? A lot of these cases where people are deported, that are veterans, have committed serious felonies. And just because they served this country doesn’t give them the right then to go sell drugs to kids and expect to be able to stay—

JACQUELINE STEVENS: Well, right. That’s what we have prison sentences for. So the people who were—

RALPH ISENBERG: —if they’re not citizens.

AMY GOODMAN: Jacqueline Stevens?

JACQUELINE STEVENS: Of course, but that’s what we have prison—that’s what we have prison sentences for. So, they’re not arguing that people who are convicted of crimes shouldn’t serve their prison time. Of course they should. But what they’re arguing is that people who, including his brother, have a Bronze Medal, shouldn’t be deported because of some run-in with the law after they’ve served their prison sentences.

By the way, the Valenzuela brothers also have a claim to U.S. citizenship through their mother, who is a U.S. citizen. She was born in New Mexico. And they’ve presented—they’re in deportation proceedings right now, although they’re not detained. And again, you know, despite having documents of their U.S. citizenship through a birth certificate from their mother, as well as the death certificate, both indicating her birth in New Mexico, ICE is nonetheless trying to get them to file an N-600 application for a certificate of citizenship, rather than simply recognize the documents, which, under the law, are sufficient to ascertain their U.S. citizenship.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to leave it there, and we’re also going to continue to follow the case of Jakadrien Turner, as well as a number of these cases. Professor Jacqueline Stevens of Northwestern University, thanks for joining us from Chicago. And thank you to Reverend Peter Johnson and Ralph Isenberg for joining us from Dallas.

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