Esmeralda Medina, 15, is back at home now after spending nearly a year living in Tijuana, barely able to speak Spanish. Esmeralda was only 5 when her parents brought her into the United States on a temporary visa. She found out the hard way that she was here illegally. But now she's back home and even grateful for the experience.
The first time Eyewitness News met Esmeralda Medina, she was trapped in Tijuana. The Moreno Valley teenager had gone to Mexico with her mother in June of last year. But Esmeralda and her mother weren't allowed back in the U.S. because both of them had been living here illegally.
Esmeralda found herself living with relatives in a foreign city, barely able to speak the language.
Fast-forward to last month and Esmeralda was finally allowed to return home after spending 10 months in Mexico.
"I still didn't feel like it was actually going to happen until I got back," said Esmeralda. "When I got back, I was like, 'Wow, it really did happen.'"
Esmeralda says there were times when she had given up hope.
"I kind of looked at it: Less hope, because if I got my hopes up then what if it never happened, and I would be more sad," said Esmeralda.
Robert Myers is Esmeralda's immigration attorney, who worked to get the 15-year-old back to her father's home in Moreno Valley.
"This was one of the hardest fights I've fought, and when I got the news I was ecstatic," said Myers.
Myers says immigration officials in Washington reviewed Esmeralda's case and eventually granted her a two-year provisional return.
"They knew that as long as they checked every possible avenue and that they made sure that she was not a danger to the community, that she did in fact meet all the qualifications for deferred action, that they would allow her in on a different program," said Myers.
And while Esmeralda is back with her father in Moreno Valley, her mother and two younger brothers remain in Mexico. It's not clear when or if she will ever be reunited with the rest of her family.
But she tries to maintain a positive outlook on the lessons she's learned over the past year.
"There's so many people that have so much money and they're unhappy, and there's so many people that have nothing, but they're still so happy with what they have," said Esmeralda.
Esmeralda missed most of her sophomore year while she was in Mexico. But she is enrolled in summer school and plans to begin her junior year at Moreno Valley High School in the fall.
She will spend the next two years trying to normalize her immigration status.