Man detained by immigration officers after delivering pizza to Army base
A pizza delivery man could soon be deported after he was turned over to immigration officials after trying to drop off food at a military base in New York.
Pablo Villavicencio, 35, arrived at the Fort Hamilton base in Brooklyn last week to deliver an order from the brick-oven pizza restaurant in Queens where he worked. He showed his New York City identification card to the guard as he had done several times before, but it wasn’t enough this time, his wife says.
Villavicencio, an undocumented immigrant from Ecuador, didn’t have a “valid Department of Defense identification” and was asked to get a daily visitors pass, Fort Hamilton said in a statement.
He ended up “signing a waiver permitting a background check,” which revealed there was an active warrant for Villavicencio’s deportation and prompted military police to call immigration agents, the base and Immigration and Customs Enforcement said.
“He was doing his job, he wasn’t committing a crime,” his wife, Sandra Chica, told reporters. “He wasn’t doing anything illegal other than working to support his two daughters.”
Chica said her husband could be deported to Ecuador as early as next week.
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Thursday the state has secured pro bono legal counsel for Villavicencio. Cuomo said he had talked to Chica and expressed “deep frustration with the federal government’s assault on New York’s immigrant families.”
New York City Councilman Justin Brannan, a Democrat, is questioning the military’s decision to call immigration officials.
“Pablo never had a problem entering the base before, he had a NYC ID and never had an issue before,” Brannan said. “Why was Pablo singled out? What was different this time?”
“Is our city, state and nation more safe today because Pablo is off the streets?” he added.
He applied for a green card
Villavicencio had filed for his green card in February and was waiting for a response when he was detained, Chica says.
He is married to Chica, a United States citizen, and they have two young daughters who were born in the United States.
An ICE spokeswoman said his application for a green card wouldn’t prevent his deportation.
An immigration judge had ordered Villavicencio’s deportation in 2010 after he overstayed his visa, ICE said in a statement.
He was initially ordered to leave without an official deportation order on his record but when he failed to leave the country, he was issued a final order of removal — an order from a judge that a person can be deported and has no more appeals left.
A final order of removal is a civil, not criminal, charge.
Since then, he’s been considered an “ICE fugitive,” the agency said.
“It’s unfair that deportations appear to be the most important thing — trying to increase (deportation) numbers regardless of the impact they have on families,” Chica said.
A ‘dangerous precedent’
Villavicencio’s arrest has sent “shock waves” throughout New York City’s immigrant community, including among those who regularly use the kind of municipal identification card that Villavicencio displayed during the incident.
“They (undocumented immigrants) were told with this ID, they would have some form of liberty in this city without being arrested,” Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, a Democrat, said.
“We are setting a dangerous precedent with what we saw here,” he added.
The IDNYC card was introduced in 2015 as a free and official proof of identification that could be obtained with limited documentation — making it accessible to the nearly half million city residents without legal immigration status.
The ID cards also serve the homeless, low-income elderly people, former prisoners and members of the LGBTQ community who may have difficulty obtaining other government-issued IDs.
The personal information of cardholders cannot be disclosed to federal law enforcement or immigration authorities without permission from the city’s human resources administration. Applicants do not have to disclose their immigration status to receive a card.
The municipal identification cards have made it easier for some New Yorkers to report a crime, lease an apartment, open a bank account and even borrow a library book.
New York City’s ID program is similar to those in cities around the country, including San Francisco and Los Angeles.