On February 28, Romulo Avelica-Gonzalez drove to Academia Avance, a small charter academy, to drop off two of his daughters at school. Academia Avance is located in Highland Park, a predominantly Latino, rapidly gentrifying neighborhood in Northeast Los Angeles, where pupuserias and undercover garment factories have struck an uneasy truce with gourmet bakeries and vintage vinyl record stores. After dropping off one daughter, Romulo was pulled over by ICE agents, who were unaware that 13-year-old Fatima was still in the backseat. Over uncontrollable sobs, Fatima filmed the arrest with her cellphone.
Romulo Avelica-Gonzalez had a DUI charge from eight years ago, which had long been resolved, at least according to the rules that existed before Trump took office, and he was once charged with driving without a license. (Prior to 2015, undocumented immigrants could not obtain driver’s licenses in California.) He also purchased a used car nearly 20 years ago, without knowing it bore a registration sticker that had been stolen from another car. For this he was charged with “receipt of stolen property.”
These details of Romulo’s life have come to define him in the eyes of the government, rather than other more meaningful details such as the fact that he gets up at 5 a.m. every morning, often after returning from work well after midnight, to take his daughters to running practice. Or the fact that his niece, who views him as her father, is both class president and valedictorian, and thanks to his coaching will be running the Los Angeles Marathon later this month along with Fatima. In the Trump administration’s view of the world, an undocumented immigrant who has committed any legal infraction, however frivolous and however long ago, is a “bad hombre” — even one whom anyone else in the world would recognize only as a hard worker and an exemplary father.
Romulo’s story has received international media attention, probably because of the video Fatima shot from the backseat of her dad’s car. Thanks to that attention (and due to a quarantine in response to a chickenpox outbreak at the detention facility where he’s being held), he has not yet been deported. Attorneys are fighting for his release, and his fate is still up in the air. In the meantime, many more men like Romulo are being shipped away in the night outside of the media’s fickle gaze, without access to legal counsel, often without even appearing in court. Romulo’s family is both lucky and unlucky.