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California in Congress

These Los Angeles girls went to Capitol Hill to ask the Senate to fight new immigration enforcement efforts

Fatima, left, and Yuleni Avelica, with Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y) and Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) during a news conference on Capitol Hill. (Zach Gibson/Getty Images)
Fatima, left, and Yuleni Avelica, with Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y) and Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) during a news conference on Capitol Hill. (Zach Gibson/Getty Images)

Fatima Avelica, 13, was training for the Los Angeles Marathon with her father before he was arrested by immigration agents last month after dropping Fatima's sister off at her Lincoln Heights school.

Fatima had to pause repeatedly, pressing her fingers to her eyes, as she told the story to reporters at a news conference in the Capitol on Tuesday. Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) handed handkerchiefs to Fatima and her sister Yuleni Avelica, 12. The girls had medals from completing the marathon dangling around their necks.

Democratic senators held the news conference to urge their Senate colleagues to reject President Trump's request for $3 billion to hire thousands of new immigration agents, expand detention facilities and build a wall among the southern border as part of his pledge to deport millions of people in the country illegally. 

The White House has characterized the moves as necessary for public safety.

California's Democratic Sen. Kamala Harris said Trump's immigration enforcement orders are too broad, sweeping up nonviolent offenders or people accused of the civil offense of being in the country illegally. She called the executive orders, which vastly broadened who can be targeted for deportation and leaves a lot of discretion to local immigration officials "misguided and misinformed."

"It's irresponsible to paint a whole population of people as racists and murderers and 'bad hombres,'" she said, referencing one of Trump's own lines about immigrants. "It's actually ignorant and we can't afford to run our country that way."

The girls' father, Romulo Avelica-Gonzalez, a Mexican citizen, has lived in the U.S. for 25 years. ICE officials cited two misdemeanor convictions as the reason for his arrest. His four daughters were all born in the U.S. Fatima said the family is waiting for word every day on whether he will be deported.

Fatima said she now wants to become an immigration lawyer.

"It's like a new marathon for me, and I know I can finish it," Fatima said, tears welling up again. "But, I need my coach there. I need my dad."

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