The tale of Yukun Jia is far from over but already the 12-year-old girl's story is a ready-made movie-of-the-week script that should have the networks lining up to vie for the rights to her story.
Yukun disappeared Aug. 1 from a Chinese tour group that she was traveling with during a layover in San Francisco International Airport on a trip to Space Camp in Huntsville, Ala.
At first authorities had feared she might have been kidnapped, but as it turns out, she reappeared with relatives in Amherst, Mass.
What's more, when Yukun arrived in Amherst on Aug. 1, she joined her father, Bing Jia, who has been in the country illegally since 2000.
Following a visit with the girl and her family in western Massachusetts, INS officials determined she was not forced to go with anyone.
The San Mateo (Calif.) County sheriff's office said the girl's relatives met her at San Francisco International Airport and they flew east together. Adult leaders of the group of about 30 young people had told investigators Yukun signed a document claiming she had no relatives in the United States.
After passing through customs in San Francisco, the group of young people walked to a bus for a tour of Stanford University. Officials said Yukun wasn't missed until the students finished the Stanford visit, and police were not alerted until two or three hours after she was last seen.
Yukun's lawyer Shen-Shin Lu said Tuesday that she will seek asylum in the U.S.
Lu described Yukun's reunion as part of a family asylum plan that went awry. Yukun's mother, who had planned to defect before her daughter, is in hiding in China.
That plan could be complicated by the fact that the Immigration and Naturalization Service ordered Bing Jia departed last week after it learned he was in the country.
Lu said a deportation hearing for Bing could be scheduled within a few days, but he hopes to avoid deportation by seeking asylum.
An INS spokeswoman wouldn't comment Wednesday on the father's case. However, Amy Otten, at the INS office in Burlington, Vt., noted that the girl's visitor's visa is good for up to six months.
The Chinese consulate in San Francisco told The Boston Globe that Chinese officials recently had heard — but were unable to confirm — that Bing was in the United States. The Chinese government last week asked the State Department to arrange a meeting with Bing.
According to Lu, the family had planned for the mother, Hong Jia, to arrive at the end of the year. She would join her husband and they would seek asylum on the grounds that Hong was forced to have two abortions under China's "one child" population control policy.