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Despite hardship plea by wife, man is being deported in visa case

Tali Lopez’s campaign to save her husband from deportation was barely off the ground Tuesday when word came that he was already packing his bags.

Just a day after filing a motion to stay his removal, Lopez received word that immigration officials had denied her motion and were putting her husband on a plane out of the country.

Omar Lopez, a citizen of Spain visiting here on a visa waiver, was arrested after a traffic stop last month and later detained when he was found to have overstayed his visit by several months.

He left behind his wife, a Buffalo native, and an infant stepdaughter, Mila.

“It was extremely disappointing to witness firsthand the complete lack of attention given to our case,” Tali Lopez said. “After my up-close-and-personal experience with bureaucracy in this country, I have to say I’ve lost some respect for ‘the land of the brave and the land of the free.”

Julie Kruger, Lopez’s lawyer, said she was surprised that Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the agency that detained Lopez, took so little time to review her client’s legal arguments.

She said ICE’s letter rejecting Lopez’s motion was almost identical to the letter that it had previously sent informing her of the decision to deport him.

“We made arguments that removing Omar would cause extreme hardship on Tali and Mila,” Kruger said. “It doesn’t seem like they even considered those arguments.”

ICE officials declined to comment Wednesday on their review of Lopez’s motion and repeated their contention that “as a visa overstay, his case is a priority under the agency’s current enforcement strategy.”

The final decision on Lopez’s removal was made not by an immigration judge, but by Michael T. Phillips, ICE’s field office director in Buffalo.

Friends and family say Lopez’s deportation was excessive given his infraction, overstaying his visa waiver. He also was found to be driving without a license.

Tali Lopez said she and Mila plan to leave Buffalo, their hometown, and join Lopez in Spain.

“Our little family did not come about in the traditional way, but that does not make it any less real,” she said.

Lopez’s case is the latest in a series of deportations nationwide that critics think have been wrongheaded and heavy-handed.

They say the Obama administration has publicly indicated that it would focus deportation efforts on criminals and other high-risk detainees, not law-abiding visitors married to U.S. citizens.

Lopez was here on a visa waiver program that allows visitors from certain countries to stay in the United States for 90 days. His deadline for leaving passed last May.