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Monday, January 23, 2012

Brown Girl in the Ring (Show Me Your Motion, Not Your Papers)

Brown girl in the ring  

Tra la la la la

There's a brown girl in the ring

Tra la la la la la la

Brown girl in the ring

Tra la la la la

She looks like a sugar in a plum
Plum plum

Show me your motion
Tra la la la la
Come on show me your motion
Tra la la la la la la
Show me your motion
Tra la la la la
She looks like a sugar in a plum

--Traditional Caribbean children’s song and game

 A recent news article has me pondering national belonging in a big way.

A then 14-year-old United States born, non-Spanish speaking African American girl named Jakadrien Turner was erroneously deported to Colombia in 2010.   Ms. Turner was, according to news accounts, arrested for shoplifting in Houston, Texas. Though the facts are unclear, U.S. authorities assert that Turner identified herself as an undocumented alien from Colombia. Turner pled guilty to the shoplifting charges and was turned over to federal immigration authorities who sent her before an immigration magistrate where she was ordered deported.  Immigration and Customs Enforcement then asked the Colombian consulate to issue travel documents, which the consulate issued after interviewing the teenager.  Turner was then transported to Bogotá. Once in Colombia Turner was apparently given a work permit and released.  After an odyssey of over a year, Turner was recently reunited with her family in the United States. 

In their defense, United States officials have suggested that Turner’s case is rare. However, the fact is that wrongful deportations are not as rare as is often asserted. It is probably the case that many hundreds of people, mostly people of color, are erroneously deported every year. Many of these deportations are of non-citizens whose deportations were based on improper grounds.  For many of these people, there is no remedy once they have been removed. There is no such barrier to return for American citizens who have been wrongfully deported, thankfully.  Still, wrongful deportation can be the source of numerous harms, and U.S. citizens are victims far more often than is typically imagined. According to an amicus brief filed by the National Immigration Project of the National Lawyers Guild in Castro v. United States, “the problem of detention and deportation of U.S. Citizens is so widespread that citizens may even be detained and deported on a daily basis.” According to a recent article by Jacqueline Stevens of Northwestern University, data suggests that since 2003 more than 20,000 United States citizens have been detained or deported as aliens. 

While there may be more to the Turner story than meets the eye, one wonders how in the world something like this could happen.  Aren’t there numerous safeguards? Just offering the name of someone who apparently belongs elsewhere is enough to be removed to that place? There is something odd about that logic, especially when, very frequently, it is “foreign-looking” or “dark” American citizens who are erroneously deported.   Such people often look or sound to officials as if they came from “somewhere else,” or, at minimum, as if they belong anywhere else but here.  As one commenter in the Colombian newspaper El Tiempo archly suggested about Turner's situtation: “si ella hubiese dado el nombre de una de las hijas del Presidente Obama la habrían enviado a la Casa Blanca porque el nombre coincidía” (if she had given the name of one of President Obama’s daughters, they would have sent her to the White House because the name coincided.) 

Another commenter in El Tiempo opined that U.S. officials “no hicieron el mas minimo esfuerzo de proteger o al menos revisar la situacion de la menor cuando supieron que era colombiana (officials didn’t even make the most minimal effort to protect or at least review the minor’s situation once they knew [believed] her to be Colombian). Perhaps much of the problem lay not just in the fact that Turner didn’t seem to belong to us but that she apparently belonged a very undesirable them. 

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