Thursday, January 5, 2012

Deportation's Victims

Jakadrien Turner, runaway 
The bizarre story of a 15-year-old girl deported from the U.S. to Colombia even tho she isn't Colombian has put the phenomenon of deportation into the headlines. But the girl's drama is only one of innumerable deportees' stories which often mix suffering and injustice to both the deportees and the nations they are sent back to.

The case making headlines involved a Texas girl, then 13, who ran away from home in the wake of a grandparent's death and parents' divorce. The girl got arrested for shoplifting and gave police a false name - which matched that of a 22-year-old Colombian woman with U.S. criminal charges against her. Somehow, the U.S. authorities couldn't tell the difference between the adult Colombian and a then 14-year-old girl who spoke no Spanish - and neither could the Colombian consulate in Houston, which interviewed her and issued citizenship papers - and the Texas-born U.S. citizen was promptly deported back 'home' to Bogotá.

In Bogotá the girl got a job in a call center, and apparently enjoyed her new 'homeland' - she reportedly posted photos of herself partying on her Facebook page. Meanwhile, from U.S. authorities' perspective she was yet another of the many runaways with whereabouts unknown. But the girl's grandmother traced her to Bogotá using her Facebook account and informed Colombian authorities. In December, they detained the girl, who is reportedly pregnant, and she returned home today.

The 15-year-old's case highlights both mind boggling government incompetence as well as many of the injustices of the deportation policy followed by the U.S. and other wealthy nations.

I've met a half dozen deportees here in Bogotá, and also did newspaper stories about people deported to Venezuela, Trinidad and Guyana. Non-citizen immigrants can get deported back to their home country after committing certain crimes - sometimes minor ones - in the countries they've migrated to. That may sound fair enough. But some of the deportees I met described having been deported for very minor crimes, altho I don't recall the details. Also, in many cases, the deportees left their home countries as children and grew up in their new nation, which was the only life they new. So, they are deported back to what is a foreign country for them, where they may not even speak the language. And they may leave behind spouses, children and productive lives.

In the Carribean countries of Trinidad and Guyana I met dozens of deportees, many of whose lives had fallen apart upon their return. They slept on sidewalks and in abandoned buildings, drinking and drugging themselves and undoubtedly committing crimes.

Here in Colombia, I've met about ten deportees, who predictably had gotten in trouble in the States for drug crimes. Back home, some put their lives back together: one sells cellphones, another became a barber and musician, a third an actor.

But I know of others who've continued dealing drugs back here in Colombia.

The aspiring actor told me that he had had good construction jobs in the States when immigration agents barged into his apartment one day and arrested him for a pair of minor, long-past drug possession charges.

Yet another Colombian deportee befriended some drug-abusing ex-housemates of mine and moved into their new residence around the corner. The deportee was a big, ugly, hulking guy covered with tattoos who'd done prison time in Chicago, where he'd been a member of the Latin Kings gang.

"I know how to cook methamphetamines," he boasted, before asking me which gang I'd belonged to in the States. I had to disappoint him.

A few days later, the deportee together with my ex-housemate burglarized my apartment and then moved out of their house, leaving the rent unpaid. (I went to the police. But even tho I obtained a fuzzy video showing the pair entering my house and leaving again with a full backpack, the cops did nothing. The evidence was too weak, they said.)

The Latin Kings guy's story highlights yet another injustice with deportations. Many deportees leave their home countries as innocent, impressionable kids and get formed into serious criminals in the U.S. or other developed nation. Their home country carries no responsibility for their criminal carreer and should have no reason to deal with a hardened criminal dumped on them from overseas just because of an accident of birth.

Colombia, at least, has some wealth and experience in dealing with violent crime. But tiny, impoverished nations such as Guyana, Honduras and Nicaragua have been overwhelmed by U.S.-trained gang bangers, who've brought home violent criminal methods such as drive-by shootings.

As far as the 15-year-old girl. Last I heard she's still in detention while the two government try to figure out how to get her home.

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

No comments: