De­tainee re­flects on missed mile­stones

‘These five months have felt like five years,’ he says

Los Angeles Times - - CALIFORNIA - By An­drea Castillo

Sit­ting in an im­mi­gra­tion de­ten­tion cen­ter less than two hours from his home in Lin­coln Heights, Ro­mulo Avel­ica-Gon­za­lez counted up all the fam­ily events he has missed since his ar­rest Feb. 28.

There’s the Los An­ge­les Marathon, for which he helped his 14-year-old daugh­ter, Fa­tima, train for sev­eral months. And the joint cel­e­bra­tion they share ev­ery year — their birthdays are one day apart. He also missed his 28th wed­ding an­niver­sary and his daugh­ter’s eighth-grade grad­u­a­tion.

“These five months have felt like five years,” Avel­i­caGon­za­lez, 49, said in an in­ter­view Fri­day at the Ade­lanto De­ten­tion Fa­cil­ity in San Bernardino County.

His or­ange de­tainee

jump­suit stood out in sharp con­trast to the in­ter­view room’s bare, white walls. A large braided cross and two other re­li­gious neck­laces hung around his neck. Af­ter an in­ter­view with The Times, his lawyer said guards con­fis­cated the items, declar­ing them contraband.

Im­mi­gra­tion agents ar­rested Avel­ica-Gon­za­lez min­utes af­ter he dropped off his daugh­ter Yu­leni, 12, at school. Fa­tima, who was also in the car, sobbed as she recorded cell­phone video of the en­counter. The fam­ily’s story has drawn in­ter­na­tional me­dia at­ten­tion.

In June, his lawyers set­tled Avel­ica-Gon­za­lez’s 2decade-old mis­de­meanor con­vic­tions — for driv­ing un­der the in­flu­ence and for re­ceiv­ing stolen car tags — that prompted the de­por­ta­tion or­der lead­ing to his ar­rest. He pleaded guilty to lesser ve­hi­cle code vi­o­la­tions.

His lawyers hoped that with the changes, Im­mi­gra­tion and Cus­toms En­force­ment would grant his re­lease and can­cel his de­por­ta­tion or­der. When ICE agents de­tained Avel­i­caGon­za­lez, his at­tor­neys filed an emer­gency stay of re­moval with the U.S. 9th Cir­cuit Court of Ap­peals, pre­vent­ing his im­me­di­ate de­por­ta­tion. The court re­viewed the case and dis­missed the stay in June.

The stay ex­pired Sat­ur­day and now he could be de­ported to Mex­ico as early as Mon­day.

Avel­ica-Gon­za­lez has been in the U.S. il­le­gally for more than 25 years. He had been an ac­coun­tant in his home­town in the state of Na­yarit, a job that doesn’t re­quire a col­lege ed­u­ca­tion in Mex­ico. Friends and fam­ily mem­bers spoke of how much more he could at­tain across the bor­der. Over time, his fam­ily built a life in the north­east L.A. neigh­bor­hood of Lin­coln Heights, where he also worked as a cook at a restau­rant.

He doesn’t think about the pos­si­bil­ity of re­turn­ing to his home coun­try.

“I don’t even want to think that they’ll de­port me. What would I do with half my heart and mind in an­other place? Half here, half there,” he said. “It would be too dif­fi­cult.”

Avel­ica-Gon­za­lez’s de­ten­tion has drawn re­ac­tion from lo­cal of­fi­cials. In a March 15 let­ter to the Los An­ge­les field of­fice direc­tor for ICE, Mayor Eric Garcetti said, “I have con­sis­tently ex­pressed my op­po­si­tion to an en­force­ment ap­proach that ex­pends lim­ited re­sources on op­er­a­tions that di­vide fam­i­lies with lit­tle or no pub­lic safety ben­e­fit.”

His wife and chil­dren have be­come sym­bols of the way im­mi­gra­tion en­force­ment can sep­a­rate fam­i­lies. The video of his cry­ing daugh­ter il­lus­trated the im­pact of such events.

Avel­ica-Gon­za­lez said the agent who de­tained him pulled open his car door with­out iden­ti­fy­ing him­self and de­manded he get out of the ve­hi­cle. The agent drove an un­marked black car and wore a jacket that said “PO­LICE” on the back.

When Avel­ica-Gon­za­lez got out, he said the agent pushed him against the car and placed the hand­cuffs tightly around his wrists. That’s when he told his fam­ily to record video.

“We have to fight against these sit­u­a­tions,” he said. “We have a right to be here too, be­cause of the roots we’ve built here. I’ve now lived more than half my life in this coun­try.”

An ICE of­fi­cial said the agency can no longer com­ment on Avel­ica-Gon­za­lez’s case be­cause of his pend­ing U visa ap­pli­ca­tion.

At a news con­fer­ence early last week an­nounc­ing his po­ten­tial de­por­ta­tion, his daugh­ters told a sea of cam­eras why their father should be re­leased.

“My dad is no crim­i­nal — in fact, he’s a car­ing and hard­work­ing father,” Fa­tima said. “He didn’t come to the U.S. look­ing for trou­ble. He came in search for a bet­ter life for his fam­ily. Yes, he made mis­takes, but don’t we all?”

Also last week, three of Avel­ica-Gon­za­lez’s four daugh­ters and his wife had Po­laroid pho­tos taken to send to him as gifts. As Mon­day neared, the fam­ily was still filled with hope. They wrote notes on the back of each photo.

“I love you dad,” wrote Jo­ce­lyn, 20. “We’ll see each other very soon and we’ll make you the carne asada that you like so much.”

“I want you to know I love and miss you a lot,” wrote Fa­tima. “We won’t rest un­til we have you at home with us.”

At Ade­lanto on Fri­day, Avel­ica-Gon­za­lez smiled as he read the notes. “Ay, God,” he said, his eyes brim­ming with tears.

‘What would I do with half my heart and mind in an­other place? Half here, half there. It would be too dif­fi­cult.’ — Ro­mulo Avel­ica-Gon­za­lez, who has been in the U.S. il­le­gally for more than 25 years

Mar­cus Yam Los An­ge­les Times

RO­MULO AVEL­ICA-GON­ZA­LEZ reads notes writ­ten by his fam­ily on the back of pho­tos at the Ade­lanto De­ten­tion Fa­cil­ity in San Bernardino County. He could be de­ported to Mex­ico as early as Mon­day.

Wally Skalij Los An­ge­les Times

FA­TIMA AVEL­ICA cries at a news con­fer­ence in March. She recorded video of her father’s ar­rest by ICE of­fi­cers af­ter he dropped off her sis­ter at school.

Ir­fan Khan Los An­ge­les Times

NORMA AVEL­ICA-GON­ZA­LEZ, cen­ter, wife of Ro­mulo Avel­ica-Gon­za­lez, joins others in sup­port of her hus­band out­side Los An­ge­les County Su­pe­rior Court.

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