President Donald Trump’s aggressive immigration tactics have impacted a Los Angeles family who watched as Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials took their beloved father, Romulo Avelica-Gonzalez, after he dropped his kids off at school.
Fatima Avelica, one of four American-born daughters, sobbed while recording her handcuffed father being escorted by ICE into a dark vehicle.
On Tuesday, February 28, the 48-year-old was taking his two youngest daughters to school on his way to work when he was pulled over by ICE. The Mexican native knew he was being followed by immigration officials, although their jackets read “Police,” and he was scared, Fatima told CNN.
The 13-year-old captured the heart-wrenching moment at her mother’s request, who was in the car with her. Fatima recalled her emotions:
“I was scared and sad at the same time. I never thought I would have to experience something like this in my life … on my way to school.”
Jocelyn Avelica (C) with her sisters Fatima (R) and Yuleni (L).
Avelica-Gonzalez, a food preparer at a Mexican restaurant, was targeted because of two convictions that date back years earlier.
Two decades ago, the undocumented father unknowingly bought a car with an incorrect registration sticker. He was also charged with a DUI almost a decade ago.
In a statement, ICE said:
“Mr. Avelica was targeted for arrest because relevant databases indicate he has multiple prior criminal convictions, including a DUI in 2009, as well as an outstanding order of removal dating back to 2014.”
Fatima went to school after this traumatizing experience and was met with immense support. There was a school-wide assembly in honor of the Avelica family.
“What we wanted to communicate to our families was that we are in solidarity that family, and we are in solidarity with all families,” Richardo Mireles, executive director of the Highland Park charter school Academica Avance, told LAist. “And we are going to stand together if this were to happen again.”
Richardo Mireles with three of the Avelica sisters.
Needless to say, the entire family has been impacted by this. “We knew the day was going to come … especially with the election,” Jocelyn, Avelica-Gonzalez’s 19-year-old daughter, told CNN. “We just weren’t prepared. … We thought if we don’t talk about, it’s not going to happen.”
“It really hard what we’re going through,” said Brenda Avelica, another of Avelica-Gonzalez’s daughters. “I never thought we’d actually go through something like this. It’s terrible to feel and see your family being broken apart.”
The National Day Laborer Organizing Network (NDLON) became involved in the case.
"Those are his criminal convictions in over 25 years in this country. And ICE is saying this is why he’s a ‘bad’ immigrant and should be deported,” said Emi MacLean, an attorney with NDLON. “Basically what ICE has told officials is that this man has prior convictions, as a way of essentially throwing him under the bus.”
But the Avelica family has been given hope thanks to the quick actions of NDLON, which helped Avelica-Gonzalez get a temporary stay. He will not be deported immediately, although he is still in custody and he has been moved to a different detention center. Maclean said:
“We won a short victory today – it’s not the final victory. The struggle in his case, and in many other cases, is going to continue.”
The Avelica family is working on filing paperwork a for a U-visa, which would grant the undocumented immigrant, who has lived in the US for nearly 25 years, permission to stay in the country.
A U-visa is meant to help victims of crimes, individuals who have suffered physical or mental abuse, or people who have helped law enforcement. It’s unknown how or whether Avelica-Gonzalez is eligible for it.
Jocelyn said about her father:
“He always wanted the best for his family. He would do anything for his family.”