Immigration News

February 3, 2012

Deported Texas teen maintains alias in jail calls

DALLAS — A Dallas teenager who was deported to South America under a false name never expressed concern during jailhouse phone calls that she was being misidentified as an illegal immigrant from Colombia.

The more than two dozen recorded telephone calls reviewed by The Associated Press show 15-year-old Jakadrien Turner expected to be deported to Colombia yet did not complain of having no ties to the country.

Instead, during several conversations she had with two men she identified herself as Tika Lanay Cortez and discussed renewing her green card and having her passport and Colombian identification card sent to authorities.

Yet, Turner claimed in a recent TV interview that she repeatedly tried to convince authorities she had lied when she initially identified herself to Houston police as Cortez, a 21-year-old Colombian national, after being arrested for shoplifting.

“At a certain point, I just gave up because I said it multiple times: ‘I’m Jakadrien Turner, I’m 15 years old, and why am I here?”’ Turner, who was returned to Texas last month, told Dallas television station WFAA, in an interview that aired Thursday.

The Associated Press reviewed recordings of 25 telephone calls Turner made while in custody in Houston in April and May. A law enforcement official who has listened to most of the calls and has been briefed on the case confirmed the caller is Turner. The official spoke on the condition of anonymity because the official is not authorized to publicly discuss details of the case.

During several of the phone calls, which ranged from a couple minutes to about 45 minutes, Turner frequently discusses having her passport and other documents sent so she could be released.

The teen, who said she ran away from home in November 2010 because her parents were strict, told the TV station she fell in with a trafficker who she said claimed to love her and threatened to kill her and hurt her family if she tried to escape.

But after she was in custody — and supposedly free of the alleged trafficker — she continued using her alias, said the attorney who represented her in the theft case.

“As far as I can tell, she was always listed as Tika Cortez,” said William Rene McLellan, her Houston defense attorney.

McLellan said that given the pretrial proceedings and that she was told of the possibility of deportation, “there was ample opportunity for her to change her story. It’s mind-boggling she would go with it.”

In addition to sticking to her fake name, he said, she also gave an address in Colombia.

McLellan noted Turner chose to plead guilty, was sentenced to eight days with three days’ credit but then was turned over to federal officials because of the immigration hold.

Immigration and Customs officials say Turner never identified herself as an American citizen.

Though there are times in the recorded jailhouse phone calls when Turner laments being incarcerated, she is generally upbeat and often jokes with the two men.

In a lengthy call April 9 with one of the men, Turner tells him she expects to be deported to Colombia but if she does go, “I’m coming back.”

She never tells the man that she is a U.S. citizen or complains that she has no ties to Colombia. The only thing she complains about is the security situation in that country.

“So this is what scares me though ... if I get deported, basically I don’t know how I am going to go to Colombia because it’s a war zone,” she says.

Turner was sent to South America, where she remained until Jan. 6, after Dallas police, working with her grandmother, tracked her down.

Turner’s mother has declined repeated interview requests by The Associated Press and messages left with her Dallas attorney were not returned.

While in Colombia, Turner’s Facebook page, which a Dallas police detective used to locate her, include months’ worth of posts that indicate she was having difficulty adjusting to life outside the states.

One of her first posts, three days after her May 23 deportation, says, “I MISS HOUSTON...., Colombia is my home always...”

WFAA reported that she was afraid that if she told the truth in Colombia that she would be imprisoned there.

“I made a lot of horrible mistakes, did a lot of things I’m not proud of,” she told the station.

Turner says no one in Houston would believe her when she did tell the truth about who she was.

“It’s like the story of the boy that cried wolf,” Turner said. “I’ve lied multiple times before. I’ve never been honest. I’ve made a lot of stories up. I made the name up ‘Tika Cortez.”’

U.S. immigration officials insist they followed procedure and found nothing to indicate that the girl wasn’t a Colombian woman living illegally in the country.

Turner was issued travel documents at the request of U.S. officials using information they provided, the Colombian Ministry of Foreign Affairs said.

According to that office, the girl was enrolled in the country’s “Welcome Home” program after she arrived there. She was given shelter, psychological assistance and a job at a call center, the agency said.

Turner implies that both she and U.S. authorities are to blame.

“I think a lot of people say things to try to cover themselves up,” she said. “I made the choices I made, and officials, they made the choices they made.”

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