79ºF

Teenage girl records ICE agents impersonating local police officers

Girl's wailing as ICE took dad goes viral on social media, raises concerns

photo

LOS ANGELES – A video captured 13-year-old Fatima Avelica's wailing, as U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents took away her dad on Tuesday in Los Angeles. They had just dropped off her sister at school, when men who appeared to be police officers in unmarked cars ordered her dad to stop.  

Fatima was in the back seat when ICE agents -- who were wearing jackets that instead of ICE said "police" -- told her dad, Romulo Avelica-Gonzalez, to get out of the car. The girl said, he asked why, but the men didn't answer. Instead, one of them shouted, "Be quiet! You know you have a deportation order."

Fatima picked up her cell phone to record her undocumented dad's ordeal. Her dad told her to remain calm. Her mom asked her to stop crying. But she couldn't. Her excruciating pain would echo throughout social media for days prompting ICE to release a statement. 

"After conducting surveillance to confirm his identity, the officers arrested Mr. Avelica during a vehicle stop," an ICE spokesman said in a statement. 

The 48-year-old Mexican, who is a father of four U.S.-born daughters, was on his way to take Fatima to school when the agents arrested him. He was targeted, investigated, followed and arrested on a 2014 outstanding order of removal prompted by a 2009 driving under the influence conviction.

"It's really hard what we're going through," Brenda Avelica, his 24-year-old daughter, said during an interview with the Los Angeles' ABC News affiliate. "I never thought we'd actually go through something like this. It's terrible to feel and see your family being broken apart."

During an interview in Spanish on Univision, the girls asked President Donald Trump, who was in Palm Beach with his family this weekend, to return their dad to their home. Brenda Avelica  said he was a hard working dad who was the family's sole provider, She described him as a loving and supportive dad, who wanted a better future for them.

Fatima's video showed that the federal agents were identifying themselves as police officers and that the arrest happened about six blocks away from Fatima's school. Their tactics sparked controversy among immigration advocates and local authorities. 

In February, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti asked the ICE deputy field office director to stop ICE agents from representing themselves as police to mislead the public into believing they are interacting with the LAPD. Garcetti is not only criticizing the practice as unethical. He is challenging its legality. 

"This is especially corrosive given that to advance public safety, the LAPD does not initiate police action with the objective of determining a person's immigration status," Garcetti said in a letter to ICE. 

Los Angeles ABC News affiliate Jade Hernandez contributed to this report. 


About the Author: