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Councilman Cedillo, Community & Clergy Rally Against Pending Deportation Of L.A. Father Detained By ICE

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Councilman Gil Cedillo (center) with members of Romulo Avelica-Gonzalez's family at a rally on his behalf on Tuesday in Pershing Square. (Photo by Julia Wick/LAist)
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In two weeks, 14-year-old Fatima Avelica will head to her very first day of high school.

Five months ago, the dark-haired 8th grader's world as she knew it was blown apart when her father, Romulo Avelica-Gonzalez, was arrested by federal immigration officials while dropping Fatima and her sister off at Academia Avance, a charter school in Highland Park. Avelica-Gonzalez could now be deported as early as next week.

Fatima's life changed on a Tuesday morning in February. Avelica-Gonzalez and his wife Norma had already dropped off their younger daughter Yuleni, then 12, at a neighboring campus when their car was stopped by Immigrations and Customs Enforcement agents a block from Fatima's school.

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Romulo Avelica-Gonzalez and his daughters Yuleni (left) and Fatima (right). (Photo courtesy of NDLON)
Originally from Nayarit, Mexico, Avelica-Gonzalez has lived in the United States for more than half his life. His four daughters are U.S.-born citizens. Family and friends describe him as a hardworking, upstanding citizen.

"My dad dropped off my first sister and then when he turned around, they turned on their light," Jocelyn, Fatima's then-19-year-old sister, told LAist the night of her father's arrest. "My dad was really scared. He didn't want to pull over, but he did. As soon as he did, one car went in front of his truck and one in back of his truck. They took him out and they arrested him." Fatima and her mom watched as ICE officials, wearing jackets that just said "POLICE," arrested their father and husband. Fatima pulled out her cellphone and starting filming as her father was arrested. The resulting video, punctuated with the 13-year-old's painful sobs, soon went viral, bringing international attention to the case.

Much has happened in the 155 days since her father's arrest. Fatima graduated the 8th grade. She and her sisters became activists, traveling to Washington D.C. to speak to senators on their father's behalf. She finished the L.A. Marathon, an event her father had been helping her train for. Nineteen members of Congress, 11 members of the L.A. City Council, the president of the LAUSD board, and scores of religious leaders have spoken out against her father's arrest and voiced their support for his release, according to advocates.

Avelica-Gonzalez's lawyers have settled the two old misdemeanor convictions that had originally prompted his detainment. The misdemeanor convictions (one of which is from two decades ago; the other is almost a decade old) had made him ineligible for certain forms of deportation relief. The Department of Homeland Security had also cited the convictions, which have now been pled down to lesser vehicle code violations, as a reason for making him a deportation priority.

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After Avelica-Gonzalez was arrested in February, his lawyers filed for an emergency stay of removal with the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in the hopes of preventing immediate deportation. The L.A. Times reports that the stay was reviewed and dismissed by the court in June, and that it will expire on August 5. The expiration of the stay means that Avelica-Gonzalez could be deported as soon as Monday, August 7—a week before Fatima's first day of high school.

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Fatima Avelica, Romulo Avelica-Gonzalez's then-13-year-old daughter, at a rally in March. (Photo by Julia Wick/LAist)
According to Ricardo Mireles, executive director of Academia Avance, Avelica-Gonzalez and his wife are also in the process of applying for U visas, which are granted to victims or witnesses of crime (and their immediate family members) who assist law enforcement in their investigations. An application for the visa, based on a December 2016 crime that Avelica-Gonzalez's wife was the victim of, was submitted in March. “U visa applicants should not be living in fear that they’ll be deported while they’re waiting for their cases to be adjudicated,” Alan Diamante, Avelica-Gonzalez's immigration lawyer, told the L.A. Times.

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At a rally in support of Avelica-Gonzalez held in Pershing Square on Tuesday afternoon, Councilman Gil Cedillo spoke out against Avelica-Gonzalez's pending deportation. "There is a very clear legal basis for this," Cedillo said of Avelica-Gonzalez's release from immigrant detention. "Concerns that were raised when he was picked up have been addressed," Cedillo said, referring to the former misdemeanor convictions. "His family is a victim of a broken immigration system and he must be set free," Cedillo continued, calling Avelica-Gonzalez "a model for all immigrants." A representative from the office of County Supervisor Hilda Solis also spoke in support of Avelica-Gonzalez at the rally.

"My job as a school principal is to make sure that our kids are safe, our kids can learn, and our kids succeed," St. Claire Adriaan, the principal of Fatima's school Academia Avancia said shortly before the close of Tuesday's rally. "ICE, why are you hurting our kids? Why are you breaking up our families?" Adriaan asked.

"I'm asking ICE today," he continued. "On August 14, it will be Fatima's first day of high school. She needs her dad. Her dad needs to be there with her when she starts high school, like any other parent in this country."

Previously: This Is What It's Like When A Father Of 4 Is Detained By ICE While Dropping His Daughters Off At School
Why Is The City Attorney Taking A Harsh Stance Against An L.A. Father Fighting Deportation?
Decades-Old Criminal Case Against Father Detained By ICE Settled, Paving Way For His Potential Release From Detention
Father Detained By ICE While Dropping Daughter At School Could Be Deported Next Week