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Man killed in Honduras prison fire was deported despite court stay

March 6, 2012 |  1:17 pm

PHOTOS: 'Horrific' Honduran prison fireLos Angeles immigration agents are reviewing why a Honduran man who died in a massive prison fire was sent back to his native country weeks after receiving a stay of deportation.

Nelson Javier Avila-Lopez, 20, died last month in the Comayagua prison fire. His mother, who lives in Los Angeles, is in Honduras searching for his remains. And his attorney, Joseph Huprich, is continuing to press immigration authorities on why they failed to honor the stay.

“It’s a wake-up call to review our system and make sure this doesn’t happen to anybody else,” said Silvia Ceja-Gonzalez, Huprich’s legal assistant.

PHOTOS: 'Horrific' Honduran prison fire

Avila-Lopez, who was seeking asylum, came to the U.S. in 2008 because gang members were trying to recruit him, his attorney said. He was ordered deported in 2010 when he missed a hearing in Immigration Court.

After his client was arrested and detained, Huprich filed an emergency motion on Sept. 30 to reopen the case. That motion prompted an emergency stay, which Ceja-Gonzalez said was faxed to the immigration agency.  

The next thing they knew, Avila-Lopez had been sent back to Honduras. “It happened very quickly,” Ceja-Gonzalez said. "Two weeks later he was on a plane on his way out of the country.”

Immigration and Customs Enforcement spokeswoman Virginia Kice said the agency did not receive notice of the court’s stay until Oct. 20, hours after Avila-Lopez was put on a plane to Honduras. The agency, she said, “goes to great lengths” to ensure there are no pending court actions a before someone is deported.

"ICE’s lawyers are continuing to review the circumstances surrounding this matter," Kice said. "We would never repatriate an individual if we had knowledge that a stay was in effect."

The Executive Office for Immigration Review, which oversees the Immigration Court, said records show that Avila-Lopez's attorney served ICE with the stay of deportation. The court denied the motion to reopen the case in November.

The story was first reported by KPCC.

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-- Anna Gorman

Photo: Nelson Javier Avila-Lopez and his sisters. Credit: Family photo

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