A federal judge in Manhattan granted a last-minute stay of deportation to Pablo Villavicencio over the weekend, allowing the husband and father of two to continue living in the United States as he prepares his case ahead of a July 20th court hearing. He will remain detained in a New Jersey ICE facility until then, where he's been held since he was first arrested while delivering pizza to the Fort Hamilton base in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn earlier this month.
The temporary stay was granted by Judge Alison J. Nathan of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, following a frantic few days of legal maneuvering and community outcry. In response to the Legal Aid Society's emergency petition, Judge Nathan—an Obama-appointee—ruled on Saturday that federal officials must provide court documents explaining why a temporary injunction should not be issued for Villavicencio. He had been fast-tracked for deportation back to Ecuador, which could have occured as early as Monday, according to his attorneys.
"Although we are disappointed that Pablo will remain detained, today's stay is a victory for him and his family, and also for due process and the fair administration of justice," said lawyer Gregory Copeland, of the Legal Aid Society's Immigration Law Unit. "The Court agreed with our argument that Pablo should be afforded a full and fair opportunity to present his case in Federal Court. This decision is also a reminder that the judiciary can still serve as a powerful check when other branches of government make hasty, cruel and reckless decisions."
— The Legal Aid Society (@LegalAidNYC) June 9, 2018
His lawyers have argued that Villavicencio should be released on humanitarian grounds, since he is the primary provider for his wife and two young daughters, one of whom has a congenital heart defect. Villavicencio's application for a Green Card has been pending since February. His wife, Sandra Chica, is a U.S. citizen.
"Please do the right thing with my husband for my family," Chica pleaded, in a video statement released last week. "He's trying to stay here in the legal way. Please don't take him away from us."
Villavicencio was stopped at the base on June 1st, after he was reportedly confronted by a soldier asking for proof of citizenship. A Fort Hamilton spokesperson says that he was stopped by Military Police and agreed to sign a waiver permitting a background check, which triggered ICE's involvement. Villavicencio, meanwhile, maintains that he was not aware of any waiver, telling Telemundo last week, "At no time did I sign a document." The military base has still not produced the document they claim Villavicencio signed.
Guards at the Fort Hamilton base have a reputation for hassling deliverymen, according to workers at nearby restaurants who spoke with Brooklyn Daily. "They always give the delivery guys a problem—it's the same kids who deliver every day, but they still give them a hard time," Brittany Ryan, a waitress at Campania pizzeria, told the newspaper. "Mostly they do it to the Arab kids, and most of them don't like to go to the base because of that." Some delivery places have said they will only hand off food at the gates from now on, while others plan to boycott the military base entirely.
A spokesperson for Fort Hamilton did not respond to a request for comment by press time.