A Los Angeles man who had been arrested while dropping off his children at school got a temporary reprieve from deportation on Monday.
The country's highest immigration panel, the Board of Immigration Appeals in Virginia, issued an emergency stay of deportation to Romulo Avelica-Gonzalez, buying the father of four from Lincoln Heights more time in his fight to stay in the country.
Avelica-Gonzalez' case received national attention after he was arrested Feb. 28 by immigration officials while taking his daughters to school. One of his daughters recorded the arrest, as well as her tearful reaction. The widely-viewed video turned his family into the symbolic face of the impact of tougher immigration policies under President Trump and spawned the hashtag #FreeRomulo.
"This is my country; I have roots and family here," Avelica-Gonzalez said in a statement after Monday's decision by the Board of Immigration Appeals.
Kenneth Gardner, a spokesman for the Department of Justice, said officials had no comment about the panel's decision. "The decision speaks for itself," Gardner wrote in an email.
The emergency stay from the immigration panel came just in time for Avelica-Gonzalez. He had previously received a stay from the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that expired Monday.
His lawyers are now urging Immigration and Customs Enforcement to release him from the Adelanto detention facility in San Bernardino County.
"It remains outrageous that ICE has not released him yet,"said Emi MacLean of the National Day Laborer Organizing Network. "He has been detained for five months which has been devastating for him and his family."
Avelica-Gonzalez may have another opportunity for release at the end of the month. MacLean said he's scheduled to go before an an immigration judge at Adelanto on Aug. 30 who will decide whether Avelica-Gonzalez is eligible for release on bond.
Avelica-Gonzalez first came to the attention of ICE officials because of two misdemeanor criminal convictions for driving under the influence and receiving stolen car tags.
Both of those convictions have been set aside by a judge since his arrest — but he is still in the country illegally, which means his potential deportation remains at the discretion of the federal government.
Avelica-Gonzalez has lived in Los Angeles for 25 years and has four children who are U.S. citizens. He was working as a cook at the time of his arrest.
"He should not be imprisoned just for trying to live a better life and stay with his family," Avelica-Gonzalez's 13-year-old daughter Fatima said in a statement. She is the one who made the video of the arrest, which has been viewed more than 600,000 times.
Avelica-Gonzalez and his wife have applied for legal status, with his wife applying for what's known as a U-Visa, which is reserved for victims of crimes and their immediate family members.
"Our district is dealing with the aftermath of having ICE raids in our community," City Councilman Gil Cedillo said in a statement. "His deportation would be detrimental to his family and unnerving to the entire community."
CORRECTION: The headline of an earlier version of this story described Romulo Avelica-Gonzalez as a Highland Park dad. He is from Lincoln Heights. KPCC regrets the error.