How Our Broken Immigration System Indirectly Killed Nelson Avila-Lopez


Last month 358 inmates died in a Honduran prison fire when firefighters couldn't find a guard to unlock inmates' cells. Many of those inmates had not been tried. Some of them had not even been charged with a crime. One of those inmates, 20-year-old Nelson Avila-Lopez, was supposed to be at home in Los Angeles with his mother and sisters. Instead, he died last month in Comayagua Prison because of an ICE processing error. 

California's KPCC has the devastating story:  

Nelson Avila-Lopez came to Los Angeles when he was 16. Gang members in his native Honduras had been trying to recruit him for years, so he crossed the U.S.-Mexico border illegally in order to be reunited with his mother, who was living in Los Angeles.

But Avila-Lopez could not escape the gang affiliation nor his illegal status, and last September, by then 20 years old, he was detained by U.S. federal immigration authorities and processed for deportation. Avila-Lopez's lawyer, warning that his client could face harm if he was returned to Honduras, filed a motion to reopen his case. On Sept. 30, Avila-Lopez was automatically granted a "stay" — a temporary reprieve to his deportation, pending a judge's review of his case.

"We then took that order, sent it in to the deportation officer that was in charge of his deportation, talked to him over the phone, confirmed that he received the order and that he wasn't going to send him out," said Joseph Huprich, Avila-Lopez's attorney, who does pro bono work for Honduran immigrants in Los Angeles. "That was the last thing that we heard until we got a call from the mother saying 'He was just sent out last night.'"

On Oct. 19, 2011, two-and-a-half weeks after the immigration court had halted his deportation, Avila-Lopez was taken to an Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention facility in Arizona. The next day he was sent back to Honduras.

Because he had been suspected of gang involvement in his home country, he was immediately jailed at the Comayagua Prison. As the months went on, Huprich's law firm tried to figure out why Avila-Lopez had been deported despite the judge's stay.

On Feb. 14 a fire erupted at Comayagua Prison. The cause is still a mystery, but what is known is that the prison was at double its capacity and that only six guards were on duty that day.

More deportation horror stories

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  1. was supposed to be at home in Los Angeles with his mother and sister. Insted, he died last month in Comayagua Prison because of an ICE processing error.

    Harry TButtle, hat size, 7 1/2.

    1. We’re getting a lot of Brazil crossover lately, aren’t we. Still, I’d rather be Harry Tuttle than Archibald Buttle.

      “This is your receipt for your husband…and this is my receipt for your receipt.”

      1. Life imitates Brazil.

  2. How is this any different than the anti-immigration people blaming a DUI death caused by an illegal alien on lax immigration laws? Seems like both arguments are equally flawed in that they both confuse proximate and foreseeable consequences with direct cause.

    1. I don’t know why but there’s something about immigration that gets Riggs in hysterics.

    2. Are you telling me that Reason, despite its name*, evaluates arguments based on how much they support their preexisting opinions?

      * this one’s on me.

      1. This seems like more a Riggs problem than a Reason problem. These types of posts aren’t that common among the other regular writers.

        1. Three words: Shikha Dalmia.

      2. * this one’s on me.

        I am holding you to that.

    3. I was going to both the exact same thing.

  3. Huprich’s law firm tried to figure out why Avila-Lopez had been deported despite the judge’s stay

    Fuck you, that’s why.

  4. Wave that bloody shirt, Riggs!

    1. At least it was Lucy rather than Riggs who called out the anti-immigration people for using just this kind of tactic not a week ago.…..dly-killed

      Maybe Riggs should take some argument and logic lessons from Lucy.

      1. Nah, Riggs will always be the “this man was killed for being an immigrant” guy.

      2. This is the point I was trying to make when Riggs did this before.

      3. Lucy wasn’t exactly perfect on that either, since the legislation she was complaining about was mostly about driving, not immigration, which seems more appropriate since the guy was killed by a drunk driver.

        1. She was dead right. The argument only works if you assume the law would have actually prevented him from driving. And since he was both a criminal and an illegal, that seems very unlikely.

  5. Oh no, how will the US ever alleviate its shortage of South American gangsters?

    (I’m in a cranky mood….)

  6. OT but someone should teach matthew yglesias some basic corporate law…..ares_.html

    1. Cut Yglesias some slack. He clearly suffers from Asperger’s and some form of mild retardation. I think that fact that he is able to live on his own and make a living at all is pretty remarkable.

      1. Exactly. It’s not his fault Slate gave someone a column who is incapable of understanding the complex world around him. They probably have a hard time keeping him from shitting in his office garbage can.

        1. A lot of office hire the handicapped as a service to society. I have to give Slate some credit for helping him out. And it is not like anyone who reads his stuff doesn’t immediately realize his disabilities.

          1. I wonder if he and Klein live together, Bert and Ernie style, two broken personalities trying to cooperate in order to be a single functional being–their half-minds clacking against one another, groping toward sanity blindly and grossly… bare sparks of cognition firing like distant lightning the perpetual night of their limited brains.

            1. They probably do or have. They keep a place next door to or nearby their social worker’s place so that someone can check on them regularly.

        2. They have more than a hard time keeping him from shitting in his office garbage can. Trust us.

  7. Gang members in his native Honduras had been trying to recruit him for years …
    But Avila-Lopez could not escape the gang affiliation


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