Panel tosses out deportation order for immigrant dad arrested during school drop-off

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A Lincoln Heights man notched a major victory in his fight to stay in the U.S., when the country's top immigration appeals panel vacated the deportation order against him. 

The Board of Immigration Appeals sent Romulo Avelica-Gonzalez's case back to a lower immigration court in Los Angeles for reconsideration, which could take years to be resolved.

Avelica-Gonzalez has been held at Adelanto detention facility in San Bernardino since he was arrested in February while dropping off his daughters at school. His legal team is pressing Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials to release him as his case proceeds. Barring that, his attorney Alan Diamante is hopeful they can win his release during an Aug. 30 bond hearing before an immigration judge in Adelanto.

"I'm very delighted that everything worked out," Diamante said. "I just wish I could get him released sooner. " 

Avelica-Gonzalez's case has drawn national attention, thanks in large part to the video one of his four daughters made of his arrest that went viral. His story has resonated with critics of President Trump's hardline approach to illegal immigration who view his forced separation from his wife and children as a cruel outcome of the administration's crackdown.

His backers also say he is not the serious criminal that law enforcement should be targeting. Avelica-Gonzalez's record included a misdemeanor convictions for receiving stolen car tags. That led immigration officials to begin deportation proceedings against him, but in June, his attorney successfully won a bid to set aside both of them. 

The appeals board said in its Aug. 7 decision that did the receipt of stolen car tags did not disqualify him from seeking to get his deportation order cancelled. Days earlier, the the board had thrown Avelica-Gonzalez another lifeline when it granted his request for an emergency stay of deportation while it reviewed his case. Avelica-Gonzalez had been in imminent danger of removal to Mexico; an earlier stay of deportation granted by the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals had expired that same day.

Diamante said that his client - a cook - has been heartened by recent developments. 

"He's very pleased," Diamante said. "He's promised to prepare a typical Mexican dish for me." 

Aside from fighting for legal status in the courts, Avelica-Gonzalez is also pursuing another strategy. His wife is applying for what's known as a U-Visa, which is reserved for victims of crimes and their immediate family members. 

A spokeswoman for ICE said she was precluded from commenting on Avelica-Gonzalez's case at this time. 

Immigration officials have maintained that despite Avelica-Gonzalez's years in the U.S., he is living in the country illegally and is subject to deportation. 

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