ALLENTOWN, Pa. (AP) — A Mexican national said he has been barred from entering the United States to bury his 10-year-old son, a U.S. citizen who died Tuesday in a house fire in northeastern Pennsylvania that killed three other people.

Attorneys for Fidelmar “Fidel” Merlos-Lopez are trying to win humanitarian parole so he can attend the funeral, but say U.S. Customs and Border Protection has rebuffed their efforts.

Damien Lopez died in a Shenandoah row house along with his cousin, aunt and 7-month-old half-brother. The funeral is set for Monday, with burial the next day.

“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. “Right now, I need their support, and they are refusing to help me.”

Lopez has been waiting at the U.S.-Mexico border near Laredo, Texas, since the fire.

“He’s out of his mind. Can you imagine? Your son is dead in a fire and you can’t even get across. It’s clear they are giving us the runaround,” said Elizabeth Surin, his Philadelphia-based immigration lawyer.

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, but they are using that against him now. This whole thing is really heart-wrenching,” 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.

Surin said Lopez qualifies. In fact, the Mexican husband of Tiffany Sanchez, the 29-year-old woman who died in the fire, was granted humanitarian parole to attend the funeral, she said.

Surin said border officials told her that Lopez was denied entry because he didn’t have a relationship with Damien. She said it’s just the opposite: Lopez shared partial custody of Damien and paid his ex-wife child support before leaving the United States.

Lopez, who worked as a mechanic in Shenandoah, said he was very close to his son.

“I have a video of him. I watch it often. Of when he graduated from kindergarten, you know how they do those parties. He was wearing his cap, a shirt and a tie,” Lopez said.

Though he hadn’t seen Damien in more than three years, they 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.”

His current wife said Lopez, who lives in Naucalpan de Juarez, a suburb of Mexico City, had been looking forward to returning to the United States. Now he’s desperate to get back, if only for a few days. But time is running out.

“I don’t think it’s fair,” said Danielle Lopez, 28, a hairdresser who was born and raised in Shenandoah. “It’s his child, his flesh and blood, his firstborn son. It’s horrible.”

(© Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

Comments (7)
  1. Joel Wischkaemper says:

    We have a whole bunch of comments from an Immigration Lawyer, and none from Homeland Security. We have no idea what is happening because the story is very one sided, and very biased. I suppose that works for some, but the sorts and types of manipulations the illegal aliens and their supporters is so extensive that I would hope he is not allowed.

  2. Rand says:

    We have between 12 million to 30 million ILLEGAL aliens in our country. No one knows for sure how many. Once you get across the border Obama refuses to throw them out. He even has established a 800 help line for them! The federal government is suing states that try to enforce the laws. Knowing all these things I do not want 1 more illegal alien allowed into this country, ever! I’m sick of illegals and I’m sick of Obama and the federal government not doing their job. ENFORCE this nations laws against illegal aliens!

  3. rked says:

    “They treat me as if I am a criminal,” Lopez, 34, a bus driver”

    Guess What??–He IS a criminal….!!!–I have NO sympathy for ILLEGALS that Violate our Immigration Laws…Guess What there ARE consequences for Breaking the Law….Get Over It…!!!

  4. DivaMe says:

    Breakng up families’ causing heartbreak and in the meanwhile making the load heavier for the US by doing so…Homeland Security is one of the worst government agencies as far as Im concerned.

  5. DivaMe says:

    This is not about ILLEGAL nothing idiots..its about a father wanting to bury his child pendejos.

  6. wigglwagon says:

    If Fidelmar “Fidel” Merlos-Lopez had lived up to his responsibilities as a parent and taken his children to Mexico with him, Damien Lopez would still be alive. Make no mistake about it Diva, Mr. Lopez is the one who broke up the family and caused the heartbreak.

  7. Caleb says:

    He isn’t illegal. He is currently living in Mexico, why would he be illegal? Can’t the US grant him a permit? A humanitarian parole? You see this is why individuals are migrating illegally, because the legal way of crossing is outrageously difficult! He is just a person that is trying to temporarily travel to another nation to bury his dead son. I bet if someone from Germany for example, was in the same situation as this father, he would have no trouble traveling to the United States. This is discrimination to the extreme.

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