EL PASO, Texas (AP) — A 15-year-old Texas girl who was deported in May to South America after claiming to be an illegal immigrant was back in the United States and will be in Dallas on Friday evening, her mother said.
Johnisa Turner told the Associated Press that her daughter, Jakadrien Lorece Turner, was on a flight from Atlanta. She had said earlier that she planned to meet her daughter when she arrives in the city and that she has “a gazillion questions” for Jakadrien.
“I am very excited,” Turner said. “I feel like a weight has been lifted. But at the same time, I won’t just feel really, really good until I’m able to touch her. Until I’m able to put her in my arms.”
The teen has become the center of an international mystery. Many facts of the case are still unclear, but U.S. and Colombia officials have pointed fingers over who is responsible for allowing a minor be deported to a country where she is not a citizen.
Jakadrien’s family has questioned why U.S. officials didn’t do more to verify her identify, while U.S. immigration officials insist they followed procedure and found nothing to indicate that the girl wasn’t — as she claimed — a woman from Colombia illegally living in the U.S.
State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said the case was brought to the State Department’s attention in mid-December.
“We didn’t have any involvement at all in this case until it came to light that there may be a problem with an American minor in Colombia, and that — and then we became involved both with Colombian authorities and with folks in Dallas,” Nuland said.
The teen, who ran away from home more than a year ago, was found in Bogota, Colombia, by the Dallas Police Department with help from Colombian and U.S. officials.
According to the Colombian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, 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, a statement from the agency said. When the Colombian government discovered she was a U.S. citizen and a minor, it put her under the care of a welfare program, the statement said.
The family says they have no idea why she ended up in Colombia. Johnisa Turner said Jakadrien is a U.S. citizen who was born in Dallas and was not fluent in Spanish. She said neither she nor the teen’s father had ties to Colombia. Jakadrien’s grandmother, Lorene Turner, called the deportation a “big mistake somebody made.”
“She looks like a kid, she acts like a kid. How could they think she wasn’t a kid?” Lorene Turner asked on Thursday.
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.
An Immigration and Customs Enforcement official told The Associated Press on Thursday that 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.
The ICE official, speaking on condition of anonymity due to not being authorized to discuss additional details of the case, said the teenager was interviewed by a representative from the Colombian consulate and that country’s government issued her a travel document to enter Colombia. The ICE official said standard procedure before any deportation is to coordinate with the other country in order to establish that person is from there.
The girl was given Colombian citizenship upon arriving there, the ICE official said.
The Colombian Ministry of Foreign Affairs said Jakadrien was issued travel documents at the request of the U.S. National Security Agency and with information submitted by U.S. officials. Colombian officials are investigating what kind of verification was conducted by its Houston consulate to issue the temporary passport.
It was not clear if the teen might be charged upon her return for falsifying her identity in a criminal process.
Dallas Police detective C’mon (pronounced Simone) Wingo, the detective in charge of the case, explained that in August she was contacted by the girl’s grandmother, who said Jakadrien had posted “kind of disturbing” messages on a Facebook account where she goes by yet another name.
Wingo said the girl was located in early November through her use of a computer to log into Facebook. Relatives were then put into contact with the U.S. embassy in Bogota to provide pictures and documents to prove Jakadrien’s identity.
Lorene Turner, the girl’s grandmother, said she has spent a lot of time tracking down Jakadrien.
“She didn’t have any reason to leave,” Lorene Turner said. “She lived in a nice home (with her mother and stepfather). We were very close. I don’t know why she left.”
Associated Press reporters Cesar Garcia in Bogota, Colombia, and Sandy Kozel and Matthew Lee in Washington, D.C., contributed to this report.
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