DALLAS - A Texas teenager who was deported to Colombia after claiming to be an illegal immigrant was back in the United States on Friday and at the center of an international mystery over how a minor could be sent to a country where she is not a citizen.
The 15-year-old's 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.
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. "Everything is really quick. … 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 was on a flight from Atlanta and would be in Dallas by Friday evening, her mother, Johnisa Turner, said.
Turner said she has "a gazillion questions" for Jakadrien. Federal and local officials may have plenty, as well.
The 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 and claimed to be Tika Lanay Cortez, a Colombian woman born in 1990. It was unclear if she was living under that name.
At Harris County, where she was booked on the theft charge, 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. 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.
Johnisa Turner said the girl is a U.S. citizen who was born in Dallas. 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.
Lorene Turner, a Dallas hairstylist, said she spent a lot of time on the Internet trying to track down Jakadrien. Ultimately, the girl was found in Bogota by the Dallas Police Department with help from Colombian and U.S. officials.