Texas teen mistakenly deported to Colombia coming home
SAN ANTONIO (Reuters) - Colombian authorities said they are to hand over a 15-year-old Texas girl to U.S. officials on Friday to be reunited with her family, nine months after she was deported 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 have provided authorities with identity documents proving that Turner is a U.S. citizen.
In a statement, the Ministry said she would be handed over to U.S. Consular officials on Friday, to be "returned to her country of origin."
While the youngster may soon be on her way home from her 9-month ordeal, her grandmother, Lorene Turner, wants answers.
"I don't understand how this could happen. Someone made a goof, they goofed up," Turner said.
The girl was a 14-year-old runaway from the Dallas neighborhood of Oak Cliff when she was arrested by Houston Police 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.
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 who does not speak Spanish 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 today.
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 allegations 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."
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.
(Editing by Tim Gaynor and Greg McCune)
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