Texas teen mistakenly deported to Colombia comes home

Reuters News
Posted: Jan 07, 2012 1:18 AM
Texas teen mistakenly deported to Colombia comes home

By Jim Forsyth

SAN ANTONIO (Reuters) - A 15-year-old Texas girl mistakenly deported to Colombia was reunited with her family on Friday, after she was sent to South America in a bizarre mix-up.

Dallas runaway Jakadrien Turner was deported last May to the Andean country she had never seen, and where she does not speak the language, after she gave a false name when she was arrested for shoplifting in Houston.

Colombia's Foreign Ministry said U.S. officials provided authorities with identity documents proving Turner is a U.S. citizen, and opening the way for her to be handed over to U.S. Consular officials and flown home.

Local television station WFAA late on Friday posted video of Turner hugging family members in an apparently emotional reunion, after arriving at Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport.

As a runaway from the Dallas neighborhood of Oak Cliff, the girl was arrested in April for misdemeanor theft, according to the Houston Police Department.

"The female told the arresting officers she was a native of Colombia and that her name was Tika Lanay Cortez, born March 24, 1990," Houston Police Chief Charles McClelland, Jr. said Friday.

Before Turner's safe return to the United States, her grandmother, Lorene Turner, had said she wanted answers.

"I don't understand how this could happen. Someone made a goof, they goofed up," Turner said.

McClelland said jail personnel followed procedure by fingerprinting a detainee they believed was an adult foreign national and running a check against federal immigration databases under the so-called Secure Communities program.

"The Secure Communities database provided no prior arrest history, no wanted status, or alternative identification for the prisoner," he said.

At that point, police assumed she was a 21-year-old criminal alien from Colombia, and deportation proceedings began. The girl from Texas, 14 at the time of her arrest, does not speak Spanish. But she found herself in South America two months later, where she was issued a Colombian passport based on the information provided by U.S. officials.

The Colombian Ministry said the girl was referred to a program for repatriated Colombians established by the City of Bogota and the International Organization for Migration.

"We gave her shelter, counseling, and initiated a process of inclusion in a call center job given the information that she was older," the statement said.

Lorene Turner said the family, working with police and with Texas Congresswoman Eddie Bernice Johnson, located the girl in Colombia late last year, mainly by finding the Facebook page she established there. The Colombian Foreign Affairs Ministry said it then contacted the U.S. Embassy.

"I am looking into the specific breakdowns in the process that led to Ms Turner's deportation," Johnson said in a statement on Friday.

The Colombian government is also investigating how its government issued a passport to an American citizen, based on what the Ministry said were "inaccurate and unrealistic" statements.

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement spokesman Carl Rusnok said the agency takes the case very seriously, and is 'fully and immediately investigating the matter."

"After being arrested on state charges for theft, the minor provided a false identity," Rusnok told Reuters. "She maintained this false identity throughout her local criminal proceedings in Texas where she was represented by a defense attorney, and ultimately convicted by the state criminal court. At no time during these criminal proceedings was her identity determined to be false."

Rusnok said new measures are being put into place "to ensure that individuals being held by state or local law enforcement on immigration detainers are properly notified about their potential removal from the country."

Lorene Turner said she is not satisfied.

"There has to be adults involved," she said. "No fourteen year old can change their name and get to Colombia."

She said the girl is now pregnant.

(Additional reporting by Alex Dobuzinskis and Judy Wiley: Editing by Tim Gaynor and Peter Bohan)