Deportation postponed for man whose family died

January 4, 2011 10:39:42 PM PST
A man whose daughter was one of three people who died in an apartment fire in Oakland last week was scheduled to be deported to El Salvador, but the deportation has been postponed, federal officials said today.

Nelson Benavides, who was arrested in July while trying to cross the U.S.-Mexico border near Calexico, will be able to attend funeral services for his family, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement spokeswoman Virginia Kice said. A judge had ordered his deportation on Dec. 20.

His daughter, 3-year-old Ivonne Benavides, died in the fire early Thursday morning along with her mother, Ruth Munoz, 27, and a family friend, Guillermo Reyna Flores, according to the Alameda County coroner's bureau.

ICE was preparing for Benavides' removal to El Salvador when the fatal fire occurred. He was informed of what happened, and ICE is currently making arrangements to escort him to the Bay Area to attend a private service for the family members, Kice said today.

The two-alarm blaze was reported at about 1:55 a.m. Thursday in the 1700 block of 82nd Avenue. It was apparently caused by an extension cord that was part of a network of cords supplying power to the apartment from another unit in the building, fire officials said.

The unit where Ivonne and Munoz lived had its power shut off by PG&E on Dec. 2. There were no working smoke detectors in the apartment, according to fire officials.

After the fire started, Flores was able to rescue a 7-year-old girl, Ivonne's older sister, from the apartment. He then went back inside to try to rescue Ivonne and Munoz, but none of them made it out, according to fire officials.

ICE officials have contacted the Alameda County Social Services Agency, which assumed custody of Benavides' surviving daughter following the fire, to discuss the best course of action in the case.

After consulting with the agency and reviewing Benavides' criminal history, ICE determined that he should remain in custody for the time being, Kice said.

His deportation is postponed indefinitely until the custody details regarding his surviving daughter have been addressed, Kice said.

Social Services officials were not immediately available for comment today on the girl's custody status.

Benavides was arrested and charged in 2008 for a domestic violence incident at the 82nd Avenue apartment where the fire occurred, Oakland police Officer Holly Joshi said.