Opinion: Immigration: Another U.S. citizen deported


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This post has been corrected, as indicated below.

Here we go again: A U.S.-born citizen deported from her own country. This time the case involves a 15-year-old girl who was sent packing from Houston to Colombia, according to published reports.


Clearly, U.S.-born citizens can’t be detained by immigration officials, much less deported by the Department of Homeland Security. But it seems to be happening with greater frequency. Last month, The Times reported that at least four U.S. citizens were detained in Los Angeles County over the last two months. And in 2007, Pedro Guzman, a mentally disabled man who is illiterate, was deported from Los Angeles to Tijuana even though he was born in this country. Guzman spent months in Mexico sleeping on the streets. Other cases have also popped up in recent years, and a study by a UC Berkeley think tank suggests the number is much higher.

The latest reports of mistaken deportations are obviously alarming. But these cases also raises some interesting questions about safeguards. Federal officials say they increasingly rely on technology such as fingerprints to help identify those immigrants with criminal records or outstanding deportation orders. So what accounts for the mistaken identity cases that keep popping up given that federal officials now have more sophisticated tools at their disposal?

Clearly, Jakadrien Turner’s case is complicated. This much is known, according to news reports. She lied to authorities about her identity. The false name she gave indicated that she was a Colombian woman, who appears to have been deportable. Turner, who speaks no English, remains in Latin America while officials in both countries figure out what to do.

OK, so a teenager lied. Hopefully, federal immigration officials are prepared for such a scenario and have the technology and policies in place to ensure that they are deporting the right person. After all, that’s what Homeland Security has said when touting the benefits of Secure Communities, a controversial program that requires local police to submit the fingerprints of anyone booked into local jails with federal authorities, including immigration officials.

To be fair, providing a false name isn’t going to help someone’s case. But that doesn’t relieve the federal government of its obligation to make sure it knows who it has in custody and who it is deporting.

[For the Record, 2:45 p.m. Jan. 5: The original post stated that Turner gave authorities a false name that belonged to a Colombian woman. According to the Department of Homeland Security, the name Turner gave did not belong to any real Colombian citizen.]



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--Sandra Hernandez