The wife of an immigrant deliveryman who was detained by Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents while delivering pizza to Fort Hamilton Army base in Brooklyn filed a formal request for his release with ICE’s Enforcement and Removal Operations branch on Monday.
Pablo Villavicencio, an undocumented father of two from Ecuador, was detained on June 1. Since his detention, protesters have taken to the streets to fight ICE’s policies, and his wife, Sandra Chica, has enlisted the help of attorneys from the Legal Aid Society to stop Villavicencio’s deportation.
While an emergency stay on his removal was granted by Judge Alison J. Nathan of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York on June 9, Villavicencio is set to remain in ICE custody at a correctional facility in Hudson County, New Jersey until his stay ends on July 20.
“We demonstrate to [ICE] that Pablo is not a flight risk, he is not a danger to this community or to national security, that significant humanitarian grounds are implicated here warranting his release and that his continued detention is not in the public interest,” Jennifer Williams, Legal Aid attorney, said of the formal release request.
The petition filed Monday morning urges ICE to take into account Villavicencio’s lack of criminal record, employment history and the outpourings of community support that followed his detention, according to Legal Aid. If ICE decides to keep Villavicencio in custody, his attorneys will continue to fight for his release in federal immigration court, Williams said.
Chica, standing with her daughters, Antonia, 2 and Luciana, 3, pleaded with ICE to “do the right thing.”
“Everyday I have to answer to [my daughters] why daddy is not at home. Now I don’t even know what to tell them,” Chica said, adding how her older daughter, Luciana, wondered why her father had not come to the house to pick up his gift on Father’s Day.
Standing amid dozens of immigration advocates from Legal Aid Society and Make the Road New York, Luciana scrolled through pictures on a cellphone and displayed some of her with her father to the crowd. When advocates started chanting, “Que queremos? Justicia para Pablo. E cuando? Ahora, ” (What do we want? Justice for Pablo. When do we want it? Now) the four-year-old’s voice, although meek, filtered through. “Ahora,” she chanted.
Speaking to the crowd in Spanish, Luciana talked directly to her father and hoped that he was safe, according to Councilman Carlos Menchaca, who held her in front of the crowd. Luciana wished that her father was home with her, talking about the toys that she played with and looking forward to her fourth birthday in August, Menchaca said.
“It was incredible to hold her and see her be so connected to her father,” Menchaca said, adding that the more time he spends with the daughters, the more he is convinced of what a great father Villavicencio is. “He went to school with them, to the doctor, everything that a good father would do. It was just so beautiful to hear his daughter be so connected to that love and to that loss.”
Menchaca, along with City Council Speaker Corey Johnson and other members, signed a petition demanding ICE release Villavicencio immediately.
Johnson, who expressed his outrage and sorrow to Chica Monday, said that Villavicencio should not have been detained in the first place.
“He contributes to our city’s economy and provides for his family. He poses no threat to anyone,” Johnson said. “He was delivering pizza, for god’s sake. These immigration policies are destroying families all across the country.”
Johnson denounced the separation of immigrant families from their children at the U.S. border and detailed how instances of family separation are on the rise in New York City, giving the example of another immigrant father, Xiu Qing You, who was detained by ICE while giving an interview for his green card.
“This is sickening, heartbreaking. This is not academic; this is not about numbers. This is about the human toll that it takes every single day on these individuals and these families,” Johnson said. “As a municipal government, we have your back. We will stand with you, we will fight for you, and we will do right by you.”
Villavicencio had consented to a background check when he sought a day pass to the military base, Cathy SantoPietro, a spokeswoman for Fort Hamilton, said in an email. When an active ICE warrant was found on file, personnel at the base contacted the appropriate authorities, she added.
Villavicencio, who ICE said was supposed to have left the country by July 2010, was in the process of obtaining his green card when detained by federal immigration agents. While it is true that Villavicencio was “out of status,” he should have been given time to pursue legal remedies to adjust his legal status, without fear of detention or deportation, his attorney, Williams, said.
Legal Aid attorneys will be arguing to that effect in a hearing in front of a U.S. District judge in the Southern District of New York on July 24, Williams said.