by Greg Moses
A 21-year-old college student from Portland, Oregon says he is a little confused and disappointed after being turned away from a scheduled asylum hearing in Arizona early Thursday morning.
“I was just kind of disappointed,” said Hector Lopez speaking via cell phone as he returned to the Phoenix airport for the trip back home. “I was getting psyched up to start the legal process, so it sort of kicks the winds out of my sails. We’re ready for the hearing right now.”
Lopez carried with him a letter that he was given on the evening of Dec. 22, his final night of detention at a Florence, AZ facility managed by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). The letter ordered him to appear for an asylum hearing on Jan. 6.
Dallas immigration advocate Ralph Isenberg accompanied Lopez to the Florence, AZ detention center on Thursday morning. The two met at the Phoenix airport after midnight, drove to Florence, and stayed up until 4:30 a.m. preparing for an 8:30 hearing. When they arrived at the facility, Isenberg said he and Lopez were informed by a security officer that the order to appear at the hearing was vacated when Lopez was released from detention on Dec. 23.
According to Isenberg and Lopez, the security guard at the Florence, AZ detention facility advised them that they didn’t have a court appointment and that Lopez should be getting something in the mail telling him when and where to appear for his next immigration hearing.
“It turned out not to be necessary for me to make the trip to Arizona,” said Lopez. “I’m a little confused why I wouldn’t be told beforehand why I didn’t have to come. It wasn’t cheap to fly from Portland.”
“The only thing I can compare it to is the guard in the Wizard of Oz,” said Isenberg. “You know how you knock on his door, and ask to speak to the Wizard, but he says you can’t see the Wizard and slams the door.”
“We have so many cases of people getting penalized for failure to appear and not understanding the system,” said Isenberg. “Hector Lopez is very intelligent. He was handed a written order. We were prepared for the hearing. But it’s a very dangerous situation when a security guard tells you to just check your mail.
“Think about the average person in these kinds of proceedings. They might assume they’re free. Ask Hector if he feels safer now?”
“No I don’t feel safer now,” answered Lopez as he and Isenberg approached the Phoenix airport. “I’m relying on the post office to tell me what to do next.”
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Also view a report on Hector Lopez’ holiday season by ColorLines reporter Julianne Hing.