“Please don’t take him away from us,” Pablo Villacicencio’s wife said.
A lawyer for the immigrant pizza man facing deportation after his arrest at a Brooklyn military base pleaded with officials Friday to keep him in the United States.
Jennifer Williams of the Legal Aid Society filed an emergency motion with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement to stay the deportation of Pablo Villavicencio, who could be sent back to Ecuador as early as Monday following his June 1 arrest at the Fort Hamilton Army base.
“The enforcement mechanism that was applied in Pablo’s case is inhumane, unjustifiable and should shock the conscience,” Williams said after filing the motion Friday at the Jacob K. Javits Federal Building.
A Fort Hamilton guard called ICE to have Villavicencio arrested as he tried to bring pizza onto the base last week. A background check on the father of two — run because he showed his New York City municipal identification — showed ICE had a warrant out for his arrest, officials have reportedly said.
ICE is holding Villavicencio in New Jersey with plans to deport him. Williams’ motion urges ICE to let him stay in the U.S. so he can pursue legal residency through his wife, Sandra Chica, who is a U.S. citizen.
“He is trying to stay here in the legal way. Please don’t stop him,” Chica said in a video statement. “Please don’t take him away from us.”
Villavicencio has a pending application for legal status before the U.S. Customs and Immigration Service, said Williams, the deputy attorney in charge of Legal Aid’s immigration law unit.
The Hempstead, Long Island resident would be freed and could fight his removal if the stay is granted, Legal Aid said. Williams said she plans to supplement the motion with additional materials on Monday and may file a separate motion to reopen his case in immigration court.
An ICE spokeswoman did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the motion.
Elected officials and immigrant-rights activists have rallied around Villavicencio, who has lived in the U.S. for a decade, has no criminal record and is the main breadwinner for his family.
Staff at Fort Hamilton knew him, officials have said, but his last delivery led him to be ripped from his wife and daughters. Villavicencio denied signing a form authorizing the background check that led the guard to call ICE, according to the New York Post.
“He’s the center of our family,” Chica said in the video. “He is the main support, so we’re really going to suffer if he is deported.”
Villavicencio’s supporters have cast his case as an egregious action by overzealous immigration authorities. But cases like his aren’t uncommon — ICE has ramped up arrests of immigrants without criminal convictions under President Donald Trump.
ICE considered Villavicencio a “fugitive” becuase he did not leave the country after a judge ordered him to go voluntarily in March 2010, an ICE spokeswoman said this week.
Local officials and activists have cited Villavicencio’s case in calling on Gov. Andrew Cuomo to let undocumented immigrants get official state driver’s licenses, which they say could protect them from deportation. But Fort Hamilton reportedly requires a background check for anyone who tries to enter without Department of Defense or military identification.
“Bringing every New Yorker out of the shadows is the right thing to do for our collective security and societal well-being, as we have learned through the success of our city’s municipal identification program,” Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams said in a statement.
The Cuomo administration says the governor supports the idea but thinks it should be done through legislation rather than an executive order.
Cuomo, for his part, sent a letter Friday to the acting inspector general for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security calling for an investigation of ICE’s aggressive tactics. He said ICE agents have shown “reckless contempt for the Constitution.”
“Detaining a hardworking man, separating a father from his children and tearing apart families doesn’t make America safe,” Cuomo wrote.