Highland Park father released from ICE custody vows to fight for immigration reform

LOS ANGELES (KABC) -- A Highland Park father whose arrest by ICE agents went viral is finally a free man - at least until the outcome of his immigration case.

Until then, Romulo Avelica is working to prevent other family separations.

A banner that hung for six months and demanded his release from immigration custody is now one he can proudly display - at least the half stating he is free.

His case now waits for a new immigration hearing in a court so backlogged, it could take years. So until then, Avelica answers to a new calling, one where he is fighting back.

Avelica was a cook and had been convicted of misdemeanors. Then more trouble came when he did not leave the country as he had promised. His arrest, which was captured by his daughter as he was dropping her off at school, went viral on social media and caused an uproar.

His message to Los Angeles County Sheriff Jim McDonnell is that he should not turn people over to immigration.

Avelica is headed to Sacramento on Tuesday to back the passage of SB 54, which would prevent law enforcement agencies from notifying ICE when an undocumented violent felon is about to be released.

The sheriff said his position hasn't changed and he opposes the Senate bill. He said a handover in the jail is safer than freeing an inmate and having ICE chase him down in a neighborhood.

"While doing this, they will most surely cast a wide net over our communities apprehending and detaining those not originally the target of the enforcement actions," McDonnell said.

Avelica and his lawyer said it's a risk worth taking.

"Let ICE do their job. Let ICE get a warrant. Let ICE go pick somebody up...as long as they don't violate the law," attorney Alan Diamante said.

The 48-year-old father of five said he will also advocate for the children of others he met in detention. As hard as it was for him, he said the separation hurts children even more.
Copyright © 2019 KABC-TV. All Rights Reserved.