Are immigrants deported despite court orders halting their removal?
Nelson Javier Avila Lopez was deported by the U.S. to Honduras in October despite a court order barring his removal. Now it turns out that Lopez, 20, was among the estimated 360 trapped inmates killed in a massive Honduran prison fire last month.
His case has raised an important question: Are immigration officials notified immediately about court orders blocking deportations?
Lopez's attorney told The Times that he faxed a copy of the stay order to federal immigration officials. But Viriginia Kice, a spokeswoman for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, says the agency didn't receive any indication of the stay until after Lopez was out of the U.S.
Lopez was detained on an outstanding deportation order. His lawyer went to Immigration Court in September and obtained a temporary restraining order pending review of his appeal. But over the next two weeks, Lopez was transferred from a Los Angeles-area detention center to Arizona. Word of the court order never reached immigration officials, Kice said.
This isn’t the first time immigration agents have moved to deport immigrants with court ordered stays. Amadou Diouf, a Senegalese national, was nearly deported from Los Angeles several years ago despite a federal court order temporarily blocking his removal. At the time, Diouf said he repeatedly told guards and immigration officials that he had been granted a stay but was ignored.
Kice this week said the agency “takes great care to confirm that no legal actions are pending in a case before affecting an alien’s removal,” and would never deport someone if officials had knowledge of a court order.
So are these isolated incidents or a systemic problem? Clearly, it requires at least a review to ensure that those who are still fighting their cases and have a stay aren’t mistakenly deported.
-- Sandra Hernandez
Photo: A coffin bearing a victim of last month's fire at the Comayagua prison in Honduras is carried into a morgue in Tegucigalpa. Credit: Fernando Antonio / Associated Press