This week, Mexican and U.S. officials participated in the “return” of a 14-year-old girl to her “mother” in the United States.  Except that the woman claiming to be the mother is not her mother, and the girl had never lived with the woman at all.

Rafael Romo of CNN reports that the case unfolded as follows:

According to a statement from the Mexican Foreign Ministry, the woman had recently traveled to Guanajuato and seen her daughter there.

“Derived on this information … and in compliance with international law … the judge in charge of the case asked Interpol to intervene to make the girl appear at a hearing in which the court would confirm her identity,” the statement said.

But what happened next puzzled both Alondra’s family and Mexican public opinion: The teenager was sent to the United States before her identify was positively confirmed.

Once in Houston, and with questions about her identity being raised by the girl’s biological parents, the Mexican Consulate in that city ordered DNA testing. The results confirmed that Alondra is not the daughter of the Houston woman.

Not surprisingly, the minor’s parents have said they are “taking action on the matter.”  This might concern INTERPOL.

Because of the use of the word, “Interpol,” by the Mexican Foreign Ministry, it appears to all the world that INTERPOL sent agents out to pick up the young lady.  Of course, this did not happen.  INTERPOL is a data-sharing agency based in Lyon, France.  Its member countries each have a liaison office within their own territory, and that liaison office is usually a law enforcement entity.  [INTERPOL clarified on April 23rd that it played no role in the matter when it tweeted:   “INTERPOLHQ not involved in #Alondra case” (@INTERPOL_HQ).]  INTERPOL takes no action to effect arrests, detain people, or aid in their extradition or transport; that is done by domestic law enforcement officers.

INTERPOL certainly contributes to this confusion by allowing its member countries to refer to their own liaison offices as if they are in fact INTERPOL offices.  For example, the United States’ NCB office refers to itself as “INTERPOL Washington;” Albania’s NCB uses the moniker, “INTERPOL Tirana;”  Canada lists its NCB as, “INTERPOL Ottowa,” and the list goes on and on.  The fact that INTERPOL allows the use of its name by liaison offices is interesting, given the organization’s efforts to create bright lines between itself and member country NCB activity in the revised Rules on the Processing of Data in 2012.

So when we see news articles reporting that INTERPOL took some particular action that was in fact carried out by domestic authorities, no one should be surprised, least of all INTERPOL.

As always, thoughts and comments are welcomed.