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Meet Jocelyn Avelica, Whose Dad Was Detained by ICE While Driving His Daughter to School

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On Tuesday morning, Romulo Avelica-Gonzalez and his wife were driving their 13-year-old daughter Fatima to her school in the northeast Los Angeles neighborhood of Highland Park just after dropping off their younger daughter. Then, two black, unmarked vehicles approached the family’s car. Fatima captured part of the arrest on her cellphone, in which she can be heard sobbing as ICE agents arrest and detain her father. He has lived in the United States for more than two decades and is the father of four. In a statement, ICE defended its actions, saying Avelica-Gonzalez had a DUI in 2009 and an outstanding order of removal from 2014. For more, we speak with Jocelyn Avelica, daughter of Romulo Avelica-Gonzalez. We also speak with Emi MacLean, an immigration attorney for National Day Laborer Organizing Network who is assisting the Avelica-Gonzalez family.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman, with Juan González. In our next segment, we’ll be looking at the mystery behind Russia’s role in the 2016 U.S. presidential election, as President Trump accuses President Obama of wiretapping him. FBI Director James Comey takes the unusual step of asking the Justice Department to refute Trump’s unsubstantiated claims. We’ll get the latest on that. But first, we’re going to look more at Trump’s immigration policies. Juan?

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, last month, President Donald Trump called his deportation plans a, quote, “military operation” during a meeting last month with the manufacturing CEOs.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: You see what’s happening at the border. All of a sudden, for the first time, we’re getting gang members out. We’re getting drug lords out. We’re getting really bad dudes out of this country, and at a rate that nobody’s ever seen before. And they’re the bad ones. And it’s a military operation, because what has been allowed to come into our country, when you see gang violence that you’ve read about like never before, and all of the things, much of that is people that are here illegally. And they’re rough, and they’re tough, but they’re not tough like our people. So we’re getting them out.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: But while President Trump talks about deporting drug lords and bad dudes, we turn now to a case in Los Angeles where ICE officials tore a child away from her father as he was taking her to school. On Tuesday morning, Romulo Avelica-Gonzalez and his wife were driving their 13-year-old daughter Fatima to her school in the northeast Los Angeles neighborhood of Highland Park just after dropping off their younger daughter. Then two black, unmarked vehicles approached the family’s car. Fatima captured part of the arrest on her cellphone, in which she can be heard sobbing as ICE agents arrest and detain her father. He has lived in the United States for more than two decades and is the father of four. In a statement, ICE defended its actions, saying Avelica-Gonzalez had a DUI in 2009 and an outstanding order of removal from 2014.

AMY GOODMAN: The family says he was less than two blocks away from the school at the time of the arrest. Immigration attorneys and advocates fear the arrest signals a shift in ICE’s long-standing policy against conducting enforcement activities at so-called sensitive locations, like schools, churches and hospitals. Avelica-Gonzalez’s arrest comes amidst growing fears of mass deportations under President Trump.

For more, we’re going to Los Angeles, where we’re joined by two guests. Jocelyn Avelica is the daughter of Romulo Avelica-Gonzalez. He was detained by ICE agents when dropping off Jocelyn’s sister, 13-year-old Fatima, at the school. And Emi MacLean is with us, an immigration attorney for National Day Laborer Organizing Network, who’s assisting the Avelica-Gonzalez family.

We welcome you both to Democracy Now! Jocelyn, can you tell us what happened when your parents were taking your sister to school? Describe the scene, as—and then we’re going to play a clip of the video that was taken from the car.

JOCELYN AVELICA: OK. Well, my parents, when they were taking my sisters to school, my younger—my sister who took the video, Fatima, she noticed that there was a car in the corner of our street. She said the windows were tinted, but she didn’t think anything of it. So, when they were on their way to drop off my youngest sister, they left her, and then they made a right. And once they made that right, my dad figured out that they were being followed and that it was ICE. My dad knew it was ICE. And as soon as he found out, they put little lights and—so he can stop. And my dad was really scared. He didn’t know what to do. And so, eventually, when he stopped, then that’s when my sister started crying. And they told him, “What’s your name?” and “You have a deportation.” And when they—

AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to play, Jocelyn, the video. Who took this video?

JOCELYN AVELICA: My sister, Fatima, my younger sister.

AMY GOODMAN: Fatima was actually—

JOCELYN AVELICA: She’s 13 years old.

AMY GOODMAN: So, she’s filming. And let’s just listen.


AMY GOODMAN: So, Jocelyn, what has happened to your father now? Where is he?

JOCELYN AVELICA: Right now my dad is in Adelanto, California.


JOCELYN AVELICA: In the detention center, from Adelanto, California.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Emi MacLean, could you tell us a little bit about her father and his interactions back and forth with immigration over the past few years?

EMI MacLEAN: Yes. Romulo Avelica-Gonzalez has lived in the United States for over 25 years. He has four U.S. citizen daughters in the United States. Jocelyn is the second eldest. As she mentioned, he has a 12- and 13-year-old daughter, who were the ones who were being taken to school that day, when ICE agents in two vehicles followed them to school, picking up and arresting Mr. Avelica literally right after he dropped one of the daughters to school and as he was en route to drop the other daughter to school.

ICE agents and ICE intended to deport Mr. Avelica that day, on Tuesday, when they were picked up. They were planning—after more than 25 years in the United States, they were planning to put him on a bus to Tijuana within hours of picking him up outside of his daughter’s school. The community rallied, the school rallied, Jocelyn and her family rallied, in a way that was, you know, truly extraordinary. And the community’s actions prevented his deportation that day.

But, as Jocelyn shared, Mr. Avelica is currently in a detention center, a private, for-profit detention center in the desert, about an hour and a half outside of Los Angeles. So, it was a really important victory on Tuesday, but there needs to be a lot more action and a lot more engagement from the community to push back on these egregious actions by ICE to prevent his ultimate deportation.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: But, now, how does this jibe? We’ve shown the quote of President Trump talking about that the government is deporting drug dealers, gang members, bad dudes. And here you have a situation of a father whose—apparently his only criminal violation is a DUI several years ago?

EMI MacLEAN: So, Mr. Avelica has two prior criminal convictions—one a DUI from about a decade ago and one a crime that we would consider a status crime, a crime essentially that is connected to someone being undocumented, where he used—misused a registration for a car, because he wasn’t able to get a driver’s license at the time, about 20 years ago. And that made him a priority, frankly, under the Obama administration, which also had egregious distinctions between so-called good and bad immigrants, and has made him a priority under the Trump administration, where essentially everyone is a priority. Any distinction is not a real distinction. And part of why it has been so important to have the community rally around Romulo Avelica-Gonzalez’s case is to demonstrate that no one is disposable, that we need to contest every single case, that we need to fight back against these kinds of deportation—deportations and this kind of rhetoric and propaganda that’s coming from the mouth of the president.

AMY GOODMAN: I was at the Museum of Natural History yesterday, and I was talking to someone who was telling me about teachers. And I hear this all over now about teachers, whether they’re in Boston, Philadelphia, Washington, around the country, is that kids are now afraid to come to school, that undocumented families are holding their kids back, fearful that something like this will happen, that you do one arrest like this, and it sends the message that Trump wants to send around the country. Your thoughts on this, Emi?

EMI MacLEAN: Yeah, I mean, I think that’s one of the struggles with this case. It’s gotten an extraordinary amount of attention, which, you know, Jocelyn can share how that has really energized her father and energized her family, the amount of people that are fighting back. In some ways, that can have the kind of deterrent effect that we know that Donald Trump wants. We know that he wants, as we heard in some of the previous stories, to make people afraid of coming to the United States, to make this country unwelcoming of immigrants. And a case like this getting the kind of attention that it’s got can have that effect, unless we use this case to fight back, unless we refuse to be desensitized to the kind of horror and trauma that we see in the video that Fatima shot, unless we use that as an opportunity to mobilize and to fight back and to say, “Not in our backyards, not in our cities, not in our community, not in our country. We are going to not be complicit in this kind of brutal immigration enforcement actions from this administration or any administration.”

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Jocelyn, could you talk about the impact on your family of your father now being in detention, taken away from you? And also, your reaction to the support you’ve gotten from the—from the community and from advocates?

JOCELYN AVELICA: It’s been amazing, the whole community, how they came together. And that’s really important. I think, as a community coming together, we will win, and we will be—we will have a victory in this. And my family, we are truly blessed to have all of this, all of this going on. When we feel drained, when we feel like we can’t go on, we hear my dad’s voice. And once we hear my dad’s voice, we want to do so much more. And we want this to help other families also be able to speak out, to not stay in the shadows, speak out, and also have a plan.

And I think this is making my family so much stronger, although my sisters, this has affected them in so many ways. They were in—they’re in Students Run L.A., and they had a 22-mile yesterday, on Saturday. And they had to run 22 miles. And they were crying the day before to my mom, saying, “I don’t want to go. I don’t want to go,” because my dad was always the one cheering them on there. My dad was always, “We’re going to take the bikes, and we’re going to—after that, we can ride bikes.” And my—they’re going to do the L.A. Marathon for my dad. So the run is going to be for my dad. Release Romulo. But I see their face every day, and I know they’re not the same. My sisters are not the same.

But this is why we’re fighting. We’re fighting for our family back, and we’re fighting so that other families can also reach out. And we’re not going to let Trump win in this. We’re going to stick together as a community, and we’re going to do anything possible to have my father back and so others can also be—so they can feel like they have the support.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, we want to thank you for being with us, Jocelyn Avelica. Jocelyn, how old are you?

JOCELYN AVELICA: Nineteen years old.

AMY GOODMAN: And can you see your dad in jail now?

JOCELYN AVELICA: Right now, we haven’t gone to visit him. But we can go. But because there’s a case of the chickenpox right now, so we haven’t been able to go. But as soon as that gets cleared up, we’re going to go see my dad.

AMY GOODMAN: Jocelyn Avelica—

EMI MacLEAN: There’s a quarantine in the facility, and they haven’t lifted it. So, it has been very difficult for the family, and they’re not allowed to go and visit.

AMY GOODMAN: There’s a quarantine in the jail? So all the prisoners, like her dad, are being exposed to this?

EMI MacLEAN: I mean, that’s—we don’t—we haven’t had a chance—I mean, actually, they haven’t let attorneys into the facility, either, so—into the portion of the facility where there’s this quarantine. But I will say that Jocelyn and her family have been speaking to their father by phone regularly. And he, you know, rather than being totally drained and depressed, has expressed to them how proud he is of them and how energized he is. And the community and others inside are watching the kind of mobilization that the community has put forward to defend him and to try to fight back against his deportation.

AMY GOODMAN:: So, he’s brought into a sick facility, and he’s quarantined there.


AMY GOODMAN: Emi MacLean, I want to thank you for being with us, with the National Day Laborer Organizing Network. And thanks so much to Jocelyn Avelica, the daughter of Romulo Avelica-Gonzalez. And we’ll continue to follow your dad’s case.

This is Democracy Now! When we come back, we look at Russia and the Trump administration. Stay with us.

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