ADELANTO >> Outside a desert jail Wednesday evening, there were tears. Embraces.
Six months after Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents arrested Romulo Avelica-Gonzalez while he took his daughters to school one February morning, he was a free man.
On Wednesday, an immigration judge ordered him to be released on $6,000 bond, bail was posted and he was released from the Adelanto Detention Center.
Shortly after 5 p.m., the 49-year-old undocumented father of four clutched his family and supporters as a throng of news reporters and cameras descended on them.
Within 5 minutes, he was whisked into a white van, and off he went, into a future that for now does not include deportation.
“I will savor every minute with my family,” Avelica-Gonzalez said after the decision, according to a statement issued by activists. “I will fight for my right to remain with them and in this country. And I will never again be able to look away from how deportations are tearing families apart.”
The decision to allow Avelica-Gonzalez of Highland Park to post bond does not mean the end to his possible deportation, but it will allow him to return to his family while his case proceeds.
A judge at the Adelanto Detention Center in San Bernardino County studied the case and decided he was not a flight risk nor a threat to the community, Avelica-Gonzalez’s attorney, Alan Diamante, said by phone Wednesday.
The family, which lost their breadwinner for the past six months, had earlier in the day been trying to collect the bond money for Avelica-Gonzalez to be released from the federal detention center, Diamante said. A spokeswoman for Immigration and Customs Enforcement, which arrested Avelica-Gonzalez on Feb. 28 during a vehicle stop, said Wednesday that they were unable to provide any comment on his case.
Previously, ICE officials said he was targeted for arrest because he had several prior criminal convictions, including a DUI conviction from 2009 and an outstanding order of removal dating back to 2014.
Supporters of Avelica-Gonzalez said the original deportation order arose from a pair of misdemeanor convictions against him dating back 20 years. Attorneys said those convictions were vacated in June, and he should be permitted to remain in the country.
Avelica-Gonzalez’s next court date before the immigration judge that originally heard his case has not yet been set, Diamante said.
Earlier this month, the Board of Immigration Appeals dismissed a deportation order against Avelica-Gonzalez. His case still needs to be reviewed by an immigration judge to consider if he should be permitted to remain in the United States, where he has lived illegally for nearly three decades. It was unclear how long that process might take.
His relatives and supporters expressed relief after Wednesday morning’s bond hearing at the Adelanto Detention Center and said they hoped Avelica-Gonzalez would be released by day’s end.
“The main message we’re trying to convey is this is not the end of the story; he’s just been released but he’s standing for immigrants everywhere (for whom) their due process is not being respected,” said Ricardo Mireles, executive director of Academia Avance charter public school in northeast Los Angeles, where two of Avelica-Gonzalez’s daughters attend.
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Avelica-Gonzalez has been in custody since his February arrest. He had just dropped off his 12-year-old daughter at school in Lincoln Heights, and a short time later, his 14-year-old daughter, Fatima — who was in his car — cried as she filmed her father being taken into custody by immigration authorities in Highland Park.
Immigration activists decried the arrest as a symbol of what they consider an overly aggressive crackdown on immigrants living in the country illegally during the administration of President Donald Trump.
The National Council of La Raza and several Democratic senators, including U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris, urged Congress to reject Trump’s $3 billion request for funding to begin construction on a U.S.-Mexico border wall and to hire additional immigration agents.
In a gathering in Washington, D.C., in February, Fatima stood next to Harris, D-Calif., Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., and Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., and said she was having a difficult time dealing with her father’s absence.
Diamante said they hope to prove that one of his daughters would suffer “an exceptional or extremely unusual hardship” in order for him to be granted a “cancellation of removal.” Diamante said his client has also applied for a U visa, which if granted, would allow him to stay in the country.
The U visa is set aside for victims of particular crimes who have suffered mental or physical abuse and are helpful to law enforcement officials in the investigation of criminal activity. Diamante said Avelica-Gonzalez’s wife was the victim of a violent crime last year, though he declined to specify the details, and that her husband could be considered a derivative beneficiary of that visa.