ALLENTOWN, Penn. – A Mexican man who was barred from coming to the United States to bury his 10-year-old son, who died in a house fire, was able to travel here this weekend to attend the funeral, his lawyer said.
Fidelmar "Fidel" Merlos-Lopez initially was barred entry into the country. But his Philadelphia-based lawyer, Elizabeth Surin, says her client was issued a humanitarian parole to attend the funeral.
She said early Sunday that Lopez was on a plane bound for Pennsylvania.
Lopez's son, Damien Lopez, died Tuesday in a Shenandoah row house fire along with his cousin, aunt and 7-month-old half-brother. The funeral is set for Monday, the burial is set for Tuesday.
Lopez was an undocumented immigrant who left the U.S. voluntarily in 2008. He's in the process of getting his green card so he can rejoin his wife in Shenandoah.
Attorneys for Merlos-Lopez said that their client had been denied entry into the United States by U.S. Customs and Border Protection.
"I told the customs officer that all I want is a permit to see my boy for one last time. They treat me as if I am a criminal," Lopez, 34, a bus driver, said in an interview Saturday, before U.S. officials granted him permission. "Right now, I need their support, and they are refusing to help me."
Lopez had been waiting at the U.S.-Mexico border near Laredo, Texas, since the fire.
A spokeswoman for the border agency did not return a phone message left at her office Saturday.
Lopez was a teenager when he entered the United States illegally in 1995 and wound up in Shenandoah, a blue-collar town with a large Hispanic population. He married a U.S. citizen who gave birth to Damien in 2002. He later divorced Damien's mother and married his current wife, Danielle Lopez, who's also a U.S. citizen.
In 2007, police in nearby Frackville stopped Lopez for running a red light and turned him over to immigration authorities. He agreed to leave the U.S. voluntarily and began the process of applying for legal permanent residence.
Surin, his immigration lawyer, said he was well on his way to getting his green card and rejoining his family in Shenandoah when tragedy struck.
"He's trying to comply, trying to follow the rules of U.S. immigration law,” she said.
Humanitarian parole is granted to immigrants who have a compelling emergency that requires temporary entry into the United States. It is used sparingly: The government approves only about 25 percent of the 1,200 applications it gets each year.
Though he hadn't seen Damien in more than three years, the father said he and his son spoke over the phone twice a week.
"He used to tell me, 'Come back, come back,'" he said. "I have been thinking that maybe it's my fault because there may have been a reason he asked me that."
This is based on a story by The Associated Press.