Ending the assault on our families

After six months in detainment, Romulo Avelica is back with his family, and telling his story.

Romulo Avelica
Romulo Avelica addressed an UnidosUS reception in Los Angeles after his release from a detainment facility, alongside UnidosUS President and CEO Janet Murguía.

The undocumented experience can be a life of constant fear, but with your family and community on your side, you can get through almost anything.

While dropping his daughter Fatima off at school, Romulo Avelica was arrested by ICE agents for being undocumented, and Fatima recorded it all on her phone. “It was the hardest thing to watch,” she says. “But I still went to school, because my father’s shown me the importance of education.”

Fatima’s school, Academia Avance in Los Angeles, already had a plan in place to address encounters with ICE agents. Ricardo Mireles, Executive Director of Academia Avance, an UnidosUS Affiliate, knew the school had to be ready for the Trump administration to target his community.

“This is a situation that’s been around for a long time,” Mireles says. “It’s not even in response to a new law, it’s really about a new interpretation.”

Romulo Avelica
Fatima and Yuleni met civil rights icon Congressman John Lewis at the UnidosUS Leaders in Action Summit in 2017. With them is Academia Avance Executive Director Ricardo Mireles and UnidosUS President and CEO Janet Murguía

[image of daughters with Janet and John Lewis with caption: Fatima and Yuleni met civil rights icon Congressman John Lewis at the UnidosUS Leaders in Action Summit. With Academia Avance Executive Director Ricardo Mireles and UnidosUS President and CEO Janet Murguía.]

Mireles and the rest of the Academia Avance family rallied around the Avelicas—and included other schools and nearby Affiliates—elevating their story and showing that the community won’t stand for injustice.

In March 2017, we gave a national platform to the Avelica family to put a human face on the issue. Fatima, age 14, and Yuleni, 13, bravely came to DC to tell their story alongside Senators Chuck Schumer, Kamala Harris, and Bob Menendez.

Romulo Avelica
Senator Chuck Schumer joined a press conference where Fatima and Yuleni Avelica shared their story. Senators Kamala Harris and Bob Menendez also attended

The story got national attention and showed what happens when undocumented immigrants are targeted simply for being undocumented—and that the idea that only criminals would be deported is a weak lie.

After six months in a detention facility, Romulo was released, and his deportation order was thrown out. The community made it clear that they wouldn’t stay silent as their lives were disrupted, and their perseverance made all the difference.

This story originally appeared in the 2017 UnidosUS Annual Report. Read more stories on the UnidosUS website.

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