DALLAS — A Texas teenager who was deported to Colombia after claiming to be an illegal immigrant was reunited with her family in the United States on Friday.
The 15-year-old girl is at the center of an international mystery over how a minor could be sent to a country where she is not a citizen.
Her family has questioned why U.S. officials didn't do more to verify her identity and say she is not fluent in Spanish and had no ties to Colombia. While many facts of the case involving Jakadrien Lorece Turner remain unclear, U.S. and Colombian officials have pointed fingers over who is responsible.
Jakadrien arrived in Dallas on Friday evening and was reunited with her family. She was flanked by her mother, grandmother and law enforcement when she emerged from the international gate Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport.
"She's happy to be home," the family's attorney, Ray Jackson, said, adding that the family would not be issuing any statements Friday night.
He said the family was "ecstatic" to have Jakadrien back in Texas and they plan to "do what we can to make sure she gets back to a normal life."
Immigration experts say that while cases of mistaken identity are rare, people can slip through the cracks, especially if they don't have legal help or family members working on their behalf. But they say U.S. immigration authorities had the responsibility to determine if a person is a citizen.
"Often in these situations they have these group hearings where they tell everybody you're going to be deported," said Jacqueline Stevens, a political science professor at Northwestern University, who is an expert on immigration issues. "Everything is really quick, even if you understand English you wouldn't understand what is going on. If she were in that situation as a 14-year-old she would be herded through like cattle and not have a chance to talk to the judge about her situation."
Jakadrien's saga began when the teen ran away more than a year ago. Jakadrien's family said she left home in November 2010. Houston police said the girl was arrested on April 2, 2011, for misdemeanor theft in that city and claimed to be Tika Lanay Cortez, a Colombian woman born in 1990. It was unclear if she has been living under that name.
Houston police said in a statement that her name was run through a database to determine if she was wanted by Immigration and Customs Enforcement but the results were negative. She was then turned over to the Harris County jail and booked on the theft charge.
The county sheriff's office said it ran her through the available databases and did the interviews necessary to establish her identity and immigration status in the country, with negative results. A sheriff's office employee recommended that an immigration detainer be put on her, and upon her release from jail she was turned over to ICE.
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.
An ICE official said the teen claimed to be Cortez throughout the criminal proceedings in Houston and the ensuing deportation process, in which an immigration judge ultimately ordered her back to Colombia.