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The Detention and Deportation of Californian Parents

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The Detention and Deportation of Californian Parents

16th May 2017


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On the morning of February 28, 2017 Romulo Avelica-Gonzalez pulled up to Academia Avance, a mall charter academy in Highland Park, CA, to drop off two of his daughters at school. After dropping off one daughter, Romulo was pulled over by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents, who were unaware that 13-year-old Fatima was still in the backseat. Over uncontrollable sobs, Fatima filmed the arrest of her father with her cellphone.

Avelica-Gonzalez had a DUI charge from eight years ago and he was once charged with driving without a license. He also purchased a used car nearly 20 years ago, without knowing it bore a registration sticker that had been stolen from another car, The Intercept reported. He has lived in the United States for 25 years, and is the father of four US citizen children.


He is one of thousands of Californian parents of US citizens who are now much more vulnerable to detention and deportation under President Trump’s vastly expanded “priorities” for deportation. Those priorities potentially make nearly all 11 million undocumented immigrants “priority” targets for deportation—setting the stage for what could well be a nationwide dragnet that would harm millions of people.

The California legislature is currently considering several initiatives that could help to mitigate the harms of immigration detention and protect Californian families. These initiatives would strive to make detention conditions more humane and would ensure that detained immigrants receive assistance from state-appointed attorneys. Some policymakers are seeking to limit such legal assistance based on assumptions about who these immigrant detainees are, particularly those with some kind of criminal history.


The purpose of the analysis set forth in this paper is to provide more detailed information on immigration detention in the state, with the goal of helping prompt better, more rights-respecting reforms. A key finding is our estimate that more than 10,000 parents of US citizens are detained in California each year. Another is that nearly half of the detainees had no criminal histories and that, among those with criminal records, those convicted of relatively minor non-violent offences (such as immigration offences, drug use or possession, or DUI) outnumbered those convicted of violent felonies by nearly three to one.

The analysis here draws from data on immigration detainees held in California for the four-and-a-half year period from January 1, 2011 to June 30, 2015 (equivalent data on more recent periods was not available at time of the assessment), with a particularly detailed look at data from October 1, 2014 to June 30, 2015, the only portion of the period for which records generally included information as to whether the detainees had US citizen children. Our analysis reveals that California’s sprawling system held 15 percent of the immigrants detained nationwide during the period, and, as noted above, it suggests that tens of thousands of those detained in recent years were parents of US citizen children and that most detainees with criminal histories were convicted of relatively minor offences. Given the Trump administration’s stated intention to ramp up enforcement efforts, this data provides a grim baseline, demonstrating the imperative of efforts to ensure fair deportation procedures and humane and dignified conditions for people held in immigration detention in California.

Report by the Human Rights Watch

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