Nebraska Observer Weblog

Nebraska’s Illegal Immigration News

013108 Teen who fled with Lexington teacher can return to U.S.

Fernando Rodriguez has received special permission from the U.S. government to return to Nebraska from Mexico for a year.

Fernando Rodriguez

Now 14, Fernando is the Lexington, Neb., youth whose cross-country flight with a smitten teacher set off a high-profile hunt and a kidnapping and child abuse case against Kelsey Peterson, then 25.

Amy Peck, the Omaha lawyer representing the Rodriguez family on immigration matters, said the parole was a huge deal to the teen and to his mother and brothers, who live in Lexington.

“This means that Fernando gets to come back and be with his family to receive the support and counseling he needs,” Peck said. “It enables him to participate in the prosecution of Kelsey Peterson, which is his right as a victim.”

The family hopes to have the boy back as early as next week. The family must pay his travel expenses.

Upon hearing the news Thursday, the Omaha lawyer defending the former middle school teacher said he was “delighted.”

“Now he doesn’t have to needlessly suffer separation from his family,” said attorney James Martin Davis. “It will also save me a trip to Mexico.”

Davis said he still has to interview Fernando as part of his defense of Peterson.

Davis has challenged Fernando’s age and the “idea that she victimized this young man.” Davis said his client probably would plead guilty to statutory rape, if the charges were modified.

Both Davis and Joe Stecher, U.S. attorney for Nebraska, said the humanitarian parole granted to Fernando has no bearing on the criminal case against Peterson.

Fernando has not been allowed to return to the United States since early November, when authorities found him and Peterson, his former sixth-grade teacher, in Mexico. He was placed with relatives of an uncle’s wife.

Peterson, of Lexington, was arrested and returned to an area jail. She faces a federal charge of taking Fernando across the border to engage in sexual activity, which carries a sentence of 10 years to life in prison, as well as state felony charges of kidnapping and child abuse.

Humanitarian parole, granted to Fernando by the Washington, D.C., office of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, is for illegal immigrants facing extraordinary medical or legal circumstances. The temporary status does not extend to family members.

Peck said she continues to pursue a U visa for Fernando. That visa, available to crime victims, potentially offers the teen more time in the United States and would open the door to permanent residency for him as well as his immediate family members.

As part of the U visa application process, however, Rodriguez needs a certification from law enforcement or the judge.

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