Under the Trump administration’s more stringent deportation policies, it’s going to be an “uphill battle” to keep a Lincoln Heights father and 25-year resident of the Los Angeles area in the U.S. with his family, one of his attorneys said Monday.
Immigration authorities arrested Romulo Avelica-Gonzalez, 48, shortly after he and his wife dropped off their 12-year-old daughter at a charter school north of downtown last week. Agents with Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE, had followed him in unmarked cars from his home, according to authorities.
His 13-year-old daughter Fatima was in the car at the time and videotaped the event as she cried — images and sounds that immediately went viral amid the roiling national debate over immigration policies. She spoke at a rally on her father’s behalf in downtown Los Angeles Monday.
“My dad is very strong. And that’s why we are here — to be strong for him,” she told a rally of nearly 100 people in Pershing Square, across the street from a federal immigration office. “We’re bigger than Trump. We are bigger than ICE. All of us together.”
In a statement issued after his arrest, immigration authorities said Avelica-Gonzalez, who worked in a restaurant, was targeted for arrest "because relevant databases indicate he has multiple prior criminal convictions, including a DUI in 2009, as well an outstanding order of removal dating back to 2014.”
Avelica-Gonzalez was in possession of a car with an illegally obtained vehicle registration sticker 20 years ago, according to his attorney, Alan Diamante. That resulted in a misdemeanor conviction for receiving stolen property, he said.
Diamante confirmed his client also was convicted of a DUI, a misdemeanor, in 2009. Immigrants in the country illegally who are convicted of a DUI have been deported in the past, according to Diamante’s legal partner Peter Greyshock. But attorneys often have been successful in delaying or blocking deportation, he said.
The Trump administration, however, has said in an executive order and in guidelines from the Department of Homeland Security that immigration officials may target anyone in the country illegally for deportation — not just serious criminals.
Avelica-Gonzalez’s attorneys have secured a temporary restraining order blocking his deportation. He remains in detention at the privately run federal immigration detention center in Adelanto in San Bernardino County.
They hope to convince a state judge to overturn his two convictions based on a new California law that requires courts to inform people of the immigration consequences if they plead guilty to a crime. The law can be applied retroactively, Greyshock said.
Even if his attorneys are successful, Avelica-Gonzalez is in the country illegally and subject to deportation. That’s why his attorneys also are making a political appeal for federal authorities to allow him to stay.
His attorneys say he may be eligible for a U-visa. Such visas are available to victims of certain crimes who have suffered mental or physical abuse and are helpful to law enforcement in the investigation of criminal activity, according to the Department of Homeland Security's website.
Avelica-Gonzalez was not a victim, but witnessed a crime involving a family member, Greyshock said. He declined to elaborate.
Avelica-Gonzalez's case has attracted the attention of political leaders.
“I was appalled” immigration authorities targeted him, said county Supervisor Sheila Kuehl.
“It doesn’t appear he has caused any physical harm to anyone,” said county Supervisor Hilda Solis. “Why target him and his family?”
Avelica-Gonzalez’s college-age daughter was honored by the Board of Supervisors last year for her work as a young advocate of immigrant rights, she said.
At the rally Monday, immigrant rights attorneys placed Avelica-Gonzalez’s arrest in the starkest terms.
“We reject the good immigrant bad immigrant dichotomy that has been at the core of Donald Trump’s campaign from the beginning,” said Emi MacLean of the National Day Laborer Organizing Network. “We reject the racist and xenophobic propaganda. We will fight back now with this case and with every case.”
Teachers and classmates of his daughter at the charter school, Academia Advance, also are organizing support for Avelica-Gonzalez, according to the school's executive director Ricardo Mireles.
Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated where Romulo Avelica-Gonzalez lived. His residence is in Lincoln Heights. KPCC regrets the error.