Last week, a 13-year old girl from Los Angeles had to watch as her father, Romulo Avelica-Gonzalez, was handcuffed and taken away in a black car.
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers had pulled over the family on Tuesday. Avelica was driving his daughter to school in the Highland Park neighborhood of Los Angeles when he was stopped by ICE Agents. After asking him to step out of the vehicle, he was placed in restraints and taken away. The girl sat helpless with her mother as the drama played out before them, recording the incident on a smartphone from her spot in the back seat.
“I was scared and sad at the same time,” said 13-year old Fatima in an interview with CNN. “I never thought I would have to experience something like this in my life on the way to school.”
Avelica’s arrest follows a string of similar detentions across the country. Under the Trump administration, agencies like ICE have begun rounding up illegal immigrants across the country. Most recent arrests have been of young and middle-aged Latin American men. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement maintains that their focus is on individuals with criminal histories and outstanding warrants.
Romulo Avelica-Gonzalez had been issued a DUI in 2009 and had an “outstanding order of removal dating back to 2014.” Although his family had talked about the possibility of Romulo being deported for years, they weren’t prepared to face the harsh reality of it really happening.
“We knew the day was going to come… especially with the election,” said Avelica’s 19-year old daughter Jocelyn to CNN. “We just weren’t prepared… We thought if we don’t talk about it, it’s not going to happen.”
Not surprisingly, the family has already begun seeking legal help.
“They stepped over a line,” said attorney Peter Greyshock of the Diamente Law Group in Los Angeles, who is representing the family.
“The ripple effect this could have on the community is frightening,” he said.
Many law firms with immigration practices have reported seeing a massive uptick in traffic since Donald Trump took office. Despite ICE’s assertion that they’re only going after violent criminals, many ordinary laborers and long-time migrants have been worried about the possibility of deportation.
Before being arrested last week, Avelica had been living in the United States for twenty-five years. His only prior contact with the law had been for a DUI ticket in 2009 and a citation for an improper vehicle registration – Avelica hadn’t known the used car he bought from a local dealership hadn’t had its tags updated.
Avelica was pulled over and taken into custody less than a half mile from Fatima’s school. He was following a routine he always had – dropping his daughters off in the morning before driving to work at a nearby restaurant.
While the Avelica-Gonzalez family tries to pry for justice, immigrants around the country are viewing the latest story about a questionable detention with what must be a mounting worry. Similar cases of decent men and women booked for no good reason have been cropping up ever since Donald Trump took office. People have been picked up from outside of warming shelters and on raids which were intended to catch absent perpetrators. One woman was arrested by ICE after she showed up at a Texas courthouse trying to flee an abusive relationship.
ICE agents told The LA Times that they hadn’t known a 13-year old girl was in the car when they pulled over Romulo, claiming that their policy is to make arrests without a big bystander presence. He also said there hasn’t been a big spike in arrests since last year.
Emi MacLean of the National Day Laborer Organizing Network called on U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement to release Avelica-Gonzalez.
“The bigger issue is this really terrorizes the school community and these families if you think you run the risk of being deported,” MacLean said to The LA Times.
An interview with another of Avelica’s daughters, Brenda, showed how worried the family has become over the last seven days. She’s not sure how her mother and siblings will be able to support themselves with the family’s only breadwinner gone.
“He came to this country for us,” she said.