Fatima Avelica hasn’t been getting much sleep for the past week. Last Tuesday morning, Fatima’s father, Rómulo Avelica-González, had just dropped her 12-year-old sister off at school and was on his way to drop Fatima off when the family noticed two unmarked vehicles following them. Soon enough, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents pulled the car over and took Rómulo — all while Fatima, who is 13 years old, recorded what was happening on her cell phone. It’s been a marathon ever since trying to get him back home.
After handcuffing him, ICE agents took Rómulo, an undocumented immigrant who was born in Mexico and came to the United States in 1991, to an immigrant detention facility in Downtown Los Angeles. Then he was transferred to the Adelanto detention center two hours away. Rómulo was convicted of a DUI in 2009 and has an order of deportation; he’s also a father to four daughters, a loving husband, and a breadwinner who provides for his family.
Rather than heading back home in silence, Fatima and her family went to school anyway. “I knew that we would be supported here,” says Fatima.
Fatima Avelica, 13, whose father was taken by Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents while he was driving her to school.
She was right. The Academia Avance charter school operates in the Highland Park neighborhood of Los Angeles, where nearly half of residents were born outside the U.S., and its faculty members are deeply invested in their students’ lives. So, when Fatima showed up with news of what happened to Rómulo, the school immediately began mobilizing. They pulled Fatima’s family members out of class to tell them what had happened, and started calling attorneys, allies, and the press.