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Deportation stirs anger

October 13, 2009|Mike Clary

MIAMI — The cancer-stricken father of a U.S. Marine serving in Afghanistan was arrested at his Florida home last week and is scheduled for deportation to his native Hungary.

The detention of Janos Lutz, 53, has outraged his family, including his son, Pfc. Janos V. "Johnny" Lutz, a machine-gunner serving in Helmand province.

"We are out here fighting . . . and I find out the United States of America is deporting my dad?" Lutz, 21, said Thursday in a telephone interview from Afghanistan. "I feel anger, betrayal, rage. But you can't lose concentration out here."

Department of Homeland Security officials confirm that the elder Lutz is being held at the Krome Detention Center in Miami but have provided no details.

Lutz, a former truck driver, has lived in the United States since 1983. He is a legal permanent resident, according to his ex-wife, Janine Lutz.

She said Lutz told her that an immigration officer cited his failure to show up for a March hearing as the reason for his detention.

The March hearing apparently concerned deportation, but Lutz told her that he had not received notice of the hearing.

Janine Lutz said there was nothing in her ex-husband's background that would warrant deportation to Hungary, where he has no relatives. "He doesn't have anything to hide," she said.

Ibraham Ghantous, a Coral Gables, Fla., immigration attorney representing the family, said he has confirmed that Lutz is being held on a previous order of deportation. "But I have not seen the file," said Ghantous, adding that he did not know the basis for the order.

Janine Lutz said her ex-husband was charged with grand larceny in 1987 after what she described as an attempt to shoplift goods from a Sears store. He pleaded guilty and served six months' probation. Janine Lutz speculated that the deportation proceedings stemmed from that incident.

Lutz also has been arrested three times for driving while intoxicated, most recently in 2002, state records show.

"This is an unbelievable nightmare," Janine Lutz said.

On Thursday, Janine Lutz wrote to both of Florida's U.S. senators, Bill Nelson and George LeMieux; Gov. Charlie Crist and U.S. Rep. Lincoln Diaz-Balart; urging them to look into the case. Since then, she said, all but Crist have expressed concern and pledged to investigate.

Janos Lutz, who was born in the Hungarian capital, Budapest, in 1956, immigrated to the United States in 1983 "with dreams of having a family of his own," his ex-wife said. His mother died in childbirth, and his father died when he was 20.

Janos and Janine Lutz were married in 1987 and divorced 11 years later. They have two sons, Janos Victor, known as Johnny, who enlisted in the Marines after graduating from Western High School in Davie, Fla., and Justin, 18, a student at Broward College.

Lutz was diagnosed with throat cancer in 1993 and had part of a lung removed five years later, his ex-wife said. He also broke both heels in 2007 when he fell off a ladder while hanging Christmas decorations, she said.

"He has the worst luck," said Janine Lutz, the chief executive of a family concrete business in Opa-locka, Fla.

Johnny Lutz said he applied for emergency leave after learning of his father's detention but was turned down. His unit is scheduled to return to the U.S. next month, but fears that may be too late.

Johnny Lutz served in Iraq before being sent to Afghanistan six months ago. "Out here you learn that life is short," he said. "I saw one of my best friends killed on the first day we were here, and another was lost on patrol. At night, I put my iPod on and try to forget what's happening. But it's tough."

Johnny Lutz credits his dad with giving him the courage to cope with such challenges.

"My father raised me with morals and character, and that's why I'm here today," he said. "My father was 100% behind my enlistment, and when they went to his room to arrest him they must have seen lots of pictures of me in uniform."

--

mclary@sunsentinel.com

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