The Department of Justice appears to be abandoning its effort to deport Pablo Villavicencio, the pizza deliveryman detained by ICE while dropping off a catering order at the Fort Hamilton army base in Brooklyn this summer. The abrupt reversal comes just three days after the Manhattan U.S. Attorney's Office moved to appeal a court ruling that permitted Villavicencio to remain with his wife and two daughters while he continued his application for permanent residency.
Villavicencio, a ten-year resident of the United States with no criminal record, became a cause célèbre for immigration advocates following his arrest in June. After two months in detention, he was freed by U.S. District Judge Paul Crotty, who called the attempted deportation "thoughtless and cruel." On Tuesday, U.S. Attorney Geoffrey Berman initiated the process of appealing that decision, raising alarms that the Justice Department might still succeed in separating Villavicencio from his family.
But according to the Legal Aid Society, that request was rescinded by federal prosecutors on Friday. A spokesperson for the U.S. Attorney's Office did not respond to a request for comment.
"We are glad that today the Federal Government fully withdrew their challenge to Mr. Villavicencio’s hard-won release from immigration detention and his opportunity to pursue lawful status," Adriene Holder, the attorney-in-charge of Legal Aid's Civil Practice, said in a statement. She added that the Legal Aid Society, along with the law firm Debevoise & Plimpton LLP, would continue to represent Villavicencio as he worked to secure his status.
Governor Andrew Cuomo also praised the about-face, noting in a statement that "there was absolutely no legitimate reason to lock Mr. Villavicencio up and take him away from his family." Following the arrest, Cuomo publicly promised to provide free legal help to Villavicencio. But the governor ultimately did not cover the cost of the legal fees, according to a person familiar with the details of that arrangement. (A spokesperson for Cuomo notes that the governor's office "connected [Villavicencio] and his family with a variety of legal options," and that people "decide what they want to pursue based on their circumstances.")
City Councilmember Justin Brannan, who led rallies calling for Villavicencio's freedom along with other local politicians, celebrated the news as well.
“I am relieved that U.S. Attorney Berman reversed coursed so quickly and will now continue to abide by the federal judge’s ruling. Pablo Villavicencio’s wife and two daughters are all American citizens and tearing their family part serves no purpose and is downright un-American," he said. "No matter where you come from or how long you have been here, we are all New Yorkers. I credit every activist who stood their ground and Legal Aid for their tireless work throughout this entire process.”