Man arrested in Wayne County deported 15 times in 16 years

US border poses no obstacle to repeat felon

Posted July 31
Reporter Cullen Browder
Photographer Edward Wilson
Web Editor Matthew Burns

Goldsboro, N.C. — Although the thousands of children streaming across the U.S.-Mexico border has recently garnered nationwide headlines, people who treat the border like a revolving door make a moral and political debate over immigration reform more complicated, especially for local law enforcement.

Lorenzo Antonio Lopez-Mejia, for example, has been deported at least 15 times in the last 16 years and is charged with crimes in three states.

"He told us he'd been deported before, said it'd be OK, he'd be back in two weeks with his friends, and he was going to kill us," said Wayne County deputy Jonathan Batchelor, who arrested Lopez-Mejia in April.

Batchelor charged Lopez-Mejia with speeding and driving while impaired, but he also found his suspect had many aliases.

"There were three names, and he never would give his real name," Batchelor said.

Lopez-Mejia spent the past few months serving out his state sentence, which also included charges of resisting arrest and communicating threats, but he's now in federal custody in Pitt County, facing a charge related to returning to the United States as a felon.

According to a federal complaint, he was taken into custody by U.S. Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) agents in New York in 1998 but never showed up for his court appearance.

Four years later, he was arrested in New Mexico, driving a van with seven other undocumented immigrants headed to North Carolina. The following year, he was accused of transporting 19 undocumented people in Arizona.

In 2011, he was arrested for DWI in Wayne County, but federal authorities were never notified that he was in custody, according to the federal complaint.

"If that's the case, then you get them next time," Batchelor said, noting that he notified CBP after the April arrest.

"On my end, there's nothing I can do," he said. "I can charge them with state law and try to pass it on up."

Rockingham County Sheriff Sam Page, a member of the National Sheriff's Association border security committee, recently visited south Texas to see the challenges of closing the revolving door to immigrants who repeatedly cross into the U.S. illegally.

"We don't know who's coming in or going out of our communities," Page said. "It's kind of like a bathtub. You can run water, (but) if you don't put a plug in it, it's going to continue to run. We've got to put a plug on the U.S. border."

It's unclear how much federal prison time Lopez-Mejia could face before he's deported again.

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