Immigration bungle sees US teenager deported

A Texas teenager who was deported to Colombia after claiming to be an illegal immigrant was reunited with her family in the United States yesterday.

The 15-year-old girl is at the centre of an international mystery over how a minor could be sent to a country where she is not a citizen.

Her family has asked why US officials didn’t do more to verify Jakadrien Lorece Turner’s identity. They say she is not fluent in Spanish and had no ties to Colombia. US and Colombian officials have pointed fingers over who is responsible.

Immigration experts say cases of mistaken identity are rare, but people can slip through the cracks, especially if they don’t have legal help or family members working on their behalf. But they say US immigration authorities had the responsibility to determine if a person is a citizen.

Jakadrien’s saga began when she ran away from home in November 2010. Houston police said when the girl was arrested, on April 2 last year, for misdemeanour theft she claimed to be Tika Lanay Cortez, a Colombian woman born in 1990. It was unclear if she has been living under that name.

When her name was run through a database to determine if she was wanted by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), the results were negative and the county sheriff’s office booked her on the theft charge.

A search of all available databases and interviews to establish her identity and immigration status in the country yielded nothing, so a sheriff’s office employee recommended that an immigration detainer be put on her, and upon her release from jail, she was returned to ICE custody.

US immigration officials insist they found nothing to indicate that the girl wasn’t a Colombian illegal immigrant. An official said she claimed to be Cortez throughout the criminal and ensuing deportation process.

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