It was like a hero's welcome for Romulo Avelica Gonzalez as he made his first official public appearance since his release from the Adelanto Immigrant Detention Center.
The crowd outside the Los Angeles County Hall of Justice chanted "Romulo! Romulo! Romulo!" as he stepped to the podium to speak. He offered his thanks to God, his family and to the community supporters who helped get him to this point.
Earlier this month, the Board of Immigration Appeals stayed Avelica's deportation and overturned a prior deportation order. He has a pending U visa application related to a crime his wife suffered, and the BIA ordered the Immigration Judge to reconsider his application for cancellation of removal.
And that all happened within the last six months, including having two misdemeanor convictions tossed out.
Avelica was released Wednesday on $6,000 bond after the judge found he had broad-based support and long-standing community ties. He now says he's ready to continue fighting his case, as well as working to make his community a sanctuary against deportations.
"The Sheriff should do his own job and not that of immigration agents," Avelica said in Spanish, referring to California Senate Bill 54. Introduced by Senate Pro Tem Kevin DeLeon, the bill would prohibit state and local law enforcement from interacting with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents.
Supporters see it as a protection for immigrants, but LA County Sheriff Jim McDonnell, backed by the statewide Sheriff's Association, says SB54 provides a false sense of security. McDonnell has repeatedly argued that his concern is that if his deputies can't hand over wanted undocumented immigrants to ICE from within the county jails, ICE would be forced to cast a net over communities and make arrests in public.
Ironically, that's how Avelica was arrested. Feb. 28, while in between dropping his youngest daughters off at school, cellphone video captured the moments agents found him in Lincoln Heights and took him into custody.
Flanked by members of the National Day Laborers Organizing Network, Avelica listened in and supported the demands of the group's leader, Pablo Alvarado.
"We're demanding that they ensure that SB54 is not watered down to the point that it becomes just a symbolic gesture," Alvarado said. "The administration is very clear in what they want to achieve. They want to make sure that immigrants fear the federal government!"
Avelica will lead a caravan of supporters to Sacramento to support SB54 on Tuesday. He says he hopes his story unites the local immigrant community to keep fighting to keep families together.