Damien Lopez, 10, died Tuesday, March 27, in a tragic house fire in Shenendoah, Pennsylvania, which also claimed the lives of his cousin, Christian Sanchez, 10, Christian’s mother Tiffany Matejick Sanchez, 29, and her nephew 7-month-old Aziah Hernandez. Before succumbing to the flames, Tiffany was able to push her 8 year old son, Diego Sanchez onto a back porch roof through an open window. Diego suffered burns and smoke inhalation.
Meanwhile, Damien’s father, Fidelmar “Fidel” Merlos-Lopez, 34, a bus driver in Naucalpan de Juarez, a suburb of Mexico City, has been denied entry to the USA to see his son one last time before the funeral scheduled for Monday, April 2 and the burial on Tuesday.
Merlos-Lopez entered the USA without papers in 1995 as a teenager and settled in Shenendoah, a working class Pennsylvania town with a large Latino population where he worked as a mechanic. He married Damien’s mother, a US citizen, who gave birth to Damien in 2002. Later divorced, he paid child support and shared joint custody, while marrying his current wife, Danielle Lopez, also a US citizen.
In 2007, Merlos-Lopez ran a red light. In a voluntary agreement with Immigrations, he returned to Mexico in 2007 and began the process of applying for legal permanent resident status based on his marriage to an American citizen.
Five years later, the government of the United States has failed to complete processing his application. Meanwhile, his child, who he spoke with on the phone twice a week from Mexico and who begged him to “come back, come back,” has died.
Merlos-Lopez applied for humanitarian permission to enter the USA to see his son’s body and attend the funeral. US CBP denied the request and has not responded to media inquiries. In a classic cold-hearted Catch-22 that only the Department of Homeland Security could engineer, CBP told his lawyer that Merlos-Lopez “did not have a relationship with his son.”
Perhaps if they had moved faster on his five year old application for legal resident status as the husband of an American-born citizen, he would have had more of a relationship. As it is, he spoke by phone with his son regularly and was doing everything to rejoin his family according to “The Rules” as we often hear from the conservative wing of politics. For five years, he has been waiting for the USA to process his application, according to the rules. Yet the government of the US has failed to put a family back together.
How long should families be kept apart? Let’s not mince words: for half his young son’s short life, the US government kept this family separated. Do we hear any “family values” advocates complaining about this situation, repeated thousands of times across the country today?
Meanwhile, Merlos-Lopez waits today in Nuevo Laredo, hoping desperately that a miracle occurs and he is allowed to see his son’s lifeless body before it is buried in three days. Anyone taking bets on the CBP having any decency at all?
More coverage: Four Confirmed Dead in Shenandoah Fire