Stories of our community: ¡Yo avancé! The sacrifices our families make to set their children up for a better life
In February 2017, Rómulo Avelica was detained by ICE. Two years later, Jair Solís would experience the same. Now these two fathers of students at UnidosUS Affiliate Academia Avance are on the path to citizenship, and their children are on the path to graduating college.
By Beatriz Paniego-Béjar, Senior Affiliate Communications Specialist, UnidosUS
One of the reasons people immigrate to the United States is to find a suitable place to live, with better living conditions and more opportunities for work.
A BETTER SHOT AT LIFE
In the United States, Rómulo and Jair found a place where they could make a living and provide for their families. Undocumented immigrants, they took a chance coming here to give their families a better life. But the U.S. immigration system made the path to citizenship a long and difficult process for these fathers. Both were detained and set to be deported.
Then a coalition mobilized: UnidosUS, the National Day Laborer Organizing Network (NDLON), the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights (CHIRLA), and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), alongside many others, banded together to fight for Rómulo’s release. These efforts would carry over into the fight for Jair’s release two years later. Now both Rómulo and Jair are documented immigrants.
U.S. CITIZENSHIP, ON THE WAY
Six months after his detention, Rómulo Avelica was released, and his deportation order was thrown out. The case received national attention after UnidosUS provided the Avelica family with a platform. At a press conference in Washington, D.C., Rómulo’s daughters shared their pain with Senators Chuck Schumer and Bob Menendez, alongside then-Senator Kamala Harris.
Rómulo and his wife were eligible to apply for a U Nonimmigrant visa, which “is set aside for victims of certain crimes who have suffered mental or physical abuse and are helpful to law enforcement or government officials in the investigation or prosecution of criminal activity,” U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) explains.
Ricardo Mireles, Executive Director of Academia Avance, told us, “There is clear progress for Rómulo and his wife to gain U.S. citizenship via the U Visa path. They have a work permit already.”
Jair Solís became documented by a different path. Detained for three weeks, Jair despaired of ever seeing his family again. After Jair’s release, his son promised that he would petition for Jair to obtain lawful permanent residency. Jair received his green card in March of this year.
THE IMPORTANCE OF EDUCATION
Rómulo was arrested by ICE while dropping his daughter Fátima off at school. She not only recorded the incident but then still went to class because, as she said, “my father’s shown me the importance of education.”
That lesson Rómulo instilled in his daughter has stayed with Fátima over the years: she finished her first year of college at the University of California, Merced, where Jair Solís Jr. also attends. Fátima’s sister, Yuleni Avelica, is also on her way to a college degree: she was recently accepted into and plans to attend the University of California, San Diego.
As Academia Avance Executive Director Mireles told us, “The perseverance of the Avelica and Solís families is catapulting these kids far forward. They get to add the accent to now say, ‘¡Yo avancé!’”—meaning, “I moved forward!”
During this National Immigrant Heritage Month we celebrate their journeys and their contributions of immigrants looking for better opportunities, and in search of their own American Dream. Join us: share your story with us here or via our social media channels at @WeAreUnidosUS across all platforms.