Immigration agents tailed a man as he dropped off his daughter at a Los Angeles school last week. They pulled him over and took him away — all while his 13-year-old sobbed in the back seat.
In the wake of President Trump’s orders to crack down on illegal immigration, the arrest of Romulo Avelica-Gonzalez left teachers trying to console students — even as they began to prepare some for the possibility of their own parents’ sudden deportation.
“You need to be ready. ‘Have you talked to your parents? Do you have power of attorney?’” Ricardo Mireles, executive director of Academia Avance, told the Los Angeles Times.
Many educators condemned the arrest that occurred so close to a school. The California Charter Schools Association said it “provoke[s] fear and create[s] turmoil” and would discourage children from going to class.
A 48-year-old restaurant worker, Avelica-Gonzalez was the only source of income for his wife and four children, according to the Times.
The Mexican national had lived in the United States more than half his life. He was ordered removed from the country in 2014 after multiple convictions, according an ICE statement released to news outlets.
After campaigning on a promise to crack down on illegal immigration, Trump ordered swift deportations for many of them.
“We’re actually taking people that are criminals — very, very, hardened criminals in some cases with a tremendous track record of abuse and problems,” he said last month.
ICE’s statement on Avelica-Gonzalez cites an eight-year-old drunken driving charge — though an attorney for the family told the Los Angeles Times he also bought a fake registration tag in 1998.
“We knew the day was going to come,” Avelica-Gonzalez’s 19-year-old daughter Jocelyn told KTLA. “Especially with the election. We just weren’t prepared.”
In its statement, ICE said it was “conducting surveillance to confirm his identity” as Avelica-Gonzalez and his wife dropped their 12-year-old daughter off at the Lincoln Heights school.
As the family drove away, two dark cars quickly appeared.
The men who stepped out of the cars wore jackets that read “Police.” Just days earlier, the Los Angeles city attorney had implored ICE agents to stop calling themselves police — saying it undermined public confidence in the city’s officers.
“Relax and be strong,” Avelica-Gonzalez told 13-year-old Fatima as he stepped out of the car, according to KTLA.
Her mother told her to take video.
Sobbing loudly for at least two minutes, Fatima held the phone steady enough to record her father being cuffed, loaded into the agent’s car and driven out of sight.
Tens of thousands of people watched Fatima’s video. Dozens protested outside a Los Angeles police station, and his attorney filed a court motion to stay his deportation, according to the Times.
“This is a population we police by creating partnerships, not by targeting them because of their immigration status,” Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck said last year, after Trump promised to deport millions of immigrants.
ICE has denied that other deportations — like a day-long sweep that targeted nearly 700 people last month — are unusual. But United Teachers Los Angeles called Avelica-Gonzalez “a deliberate tactic being deployed by the Trump administration to spread fear.”
Immigration agents are supposed to avoid enforcements at “sensitive locations” like schools, according to the Los Angeles Times.
At Academia Avance, students were so shaken that an assembly was called to talk about the arrest, the Times reported.
And teachers were ordered to help students whose parents are in the United States illegally make emergency plans in case of sudden deportation.