SOUTHPORT, NC (WWAY) – A Brunswick County man was detained by immigration agents and now his close friends and attorney do not know where he is.
Christian Lopez’s friends say he is nothing like the gang members and murderers the federal government is trying to deport from our country. They are all in shock by what has happened and want Lopez to be returned to his home in Brunswick County.
“I don’t even know where he is right now,” said Helen Tarokic, Lopez’s attorney.
Tarokic has represented Lopez for more than 5 years as he worked to gain legal status in the United States. She says this was all following a DUI Lopez received in February of 2013.
Currently, only the federal government knows where Lopez is.
“They’ve given me zero correspondence and I can’t even locate him in the detainee database, ” Tarokic said.
Tarokic said ICE and the Department of Homeland Security are violating the privilege for Lopez to communicate and seek legal counsel with this detainment.
Lopez has been an undocumented immigrant for more than 16 years living in the U.S., but he is working towards citizenship. In almost all those years that he has lived in North Carolina, Lopez has been a close friend and caregiver for the Fullwood family. Specifically he has been a close friend to Melina Fullwood’s aging father.
“My dad is extremely attached to Christian,” said Fullwood. “My mother passed away four years ago from lung cancer. He lost her after fifty-five years of marriage My aunt and uncle were murdered out in Utah, he lost them. And the only person he has besides me is Christian.”
Fullwood’s father is also a Vietnam war veteran.
Fullwood got a call from Lopez’s probation officer on Wednesday June 20th. The PO told her that Lopez needed to come into the office for an appointment. Neither Fullwood nor Lopez knew that this meeting had been scheduled, but quickly came by the Southport probation office. Fullwood says as soon as they got up to the parking lot, ICE agents were waiting for Lopez. Lopez’s lawyer calling the whole thing a sting operation.
Tarokic says Lopez was taken to a detention center in Georgia. She filed a motion for a stay in his removal process as soon as the Periera v. Sessions ruling came down and she got word of what happened to Lopez.
“We thought he was in Georgia for this last week. That’s where I was communicating with ICE and that’s what we based our motion to reopen on,” Tarokic said. “In retaliation, they picked him up last night from his detention center, got him out of bed and moved him to an undisclosed location.”
WWAY’s Andrew James reached out to the Department of Homeland Security who confirmed Lopez’s detainment but would not answer my questions especially the one asking if it was a sting operation with county probation services.
An ICE spokesperson gave WWAY this statement:
“U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) arrested unlawfully present Mexican national Christian Ayala-Lopez June 20 during a targeted enforcement action in Brunswick County, North Carolina. Mr. Ayala-Lopez is subject to a final order of removal issued by the federal immigration courts in June 2016. He also was convicted of DUI in February and again in May. Mr. Ayala-Lopez remains in ICE custody pending execution of his removal order.”
Fullwood confirmed the ICE agent referred to those recent DUI cases, but she denies they ever happened.
“I said he absolutely did not have two DWIs back to back, there’s no way I said I know that for a fact.”
She has to now tell her dad that Lopez is out-of-town on business because she does not want to upset him with the possibility that Lopez may never come back home.
“I’ve never felt powerless in my whole entire life, but I feel that way right now.”